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Antenatal depression and offspring psychopathology: the influence of childhood maltreatment

  • Susan Pawlby (a1), Dale Hay (a2), Deborah Sharp (a3), Cerith S. Waters (a2) and Carmine M. Pariante (a4)...



Antenatal depression and childhood maltreatment have each been associated with offspring psychopathology, but have never been examined in the same sample.


To determine whether childhood maltreatment influences the association between antenatal depression and offspring psychopathology.


Prospectively collected data on antenatal depression, offspring maltreatment (age 11) and offspring psychopathology (age 11 and 16) were analysed in 120 mother–offspring dyads from the community-based South London Child Development Study.


Antenatal depression increased the risk of maltreatment in the offspring by almost four times. Children exposed only to antenatal depression or only to childhood maltreatment were no more at risk of developing psychopathology; however, children exposed to both antenatal depression and childhood maltreatment were at almost 12 times greater risk of developing psychopathology than offspring not so exposed.


Research investigating exposure to adverse events in utero and offspring psychopathology should take account of postnatal adverse events such as maltreatment.

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Corresponding author

Dr Susan Pawlby, Section of Perinatal Psychiatry, PO Box 71, Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK. Email:


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The study was supported by the Medical Research Council UK, project grant numbers G89292999N and G9539876N awarded to the late Professor Channi Kumar, D.S. and D.H., the Psychiatry Research Trust, and the South West GP Trust. C.M.P. is funded by the Specialist NIHR Biomedical Research Centre for Mental Health, Institute of Psychiatry and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK.

Declaration of interest




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Antenatal depression and offspring psychopathology: the influence of childhood maltreatment

  • Susan Pawlby (a1), Dale Hay (a2), Deborah Sharp (a3), Cerith S. Waters (a2) and Carmine M. Pariante (a4)...
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Antenatal depression & offspring psychopathology

Manjeet S. Bhatia
21 October 2011

The article by Susan Pawlby et al is an excellent one and gives new insight into many aspects of antenatal depression and offspring psychopathology. It is a prospective study and longitudinally covers many areas of antenatal depression, childhood maltreatment and subsequent psychopathology.There are. however some limitations. Firstly, there must have been a longitudinal control of subjects having depression but not associated with pregnancy and also a group of pregnant subjects without depression and then effects on childhood psychopathology, and also a control group of children facing antenatal depression but having no psychopathology. Secondly, maternal depression was first assessed at36 weeks of pregnancy and not earlier (because there may be change in severity of depression in every trimester)and then assessment was done at 3 months after delivery (as many cases of antenatal depression and postpartum depression may subside in this period)and then at 12 months postpartum ( which is longer than average duration of postpartum depression).Thirdly, children's experience of maltreatment was taken in preceding 3 months prior to interview at 11 years only. Fourthly, the reason of assessment of maternal history of childhood physical and/or sexual abuse 4 years after birth of offspring not mentioned. Fifthly, the details of rating scale for emotional security would have been more informative. Sixthly, many variables e.g. biological parent versus step parent, only parent/parent living without spouse, inclusion of both parents in study, antenatal depression as a mediator or moderator,effects of antenatal depression on different sibling order, factors associated with continuation of antenatal depression in postpartum period would have been more informative. This study however stresses many important points regarding treatment of depression in antenatal period and need of future studies about continuity of antenatal, perinatal and postnatal depression and its impact on offspring psychopathology. ... More

Conflict of interest: None declared

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