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Prenatal maternal depression symptoms and nutrition, and child cognitive function

  • Edward D. Barker (a1), Natasha Kirkham (a2), Jane Ng (a3) and Sarah K. G. Jensen (a1)

Little is currently known about how maternal depression symptoms and unhealthy nutrition during pregnancy may developmentally interrelate to negatively affect child cognitive function.


To test whether prenatal maternal depression symptoms predict poor prenatal nutrition, and whether this in turn prospectively associates with reduced postnatal child cognitive function.


In 6979 mother–offspring pairs participating in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) in the UK, maternal depression symptoms were assessed five times between 18 weeks gestation and 33 months old. Maternal reports of the nutritional environment were assessed at 32 weeks gestation and 47 months old, and child cognitive function was assessed at age 8 years.


During gestation, higher depressive symptoms were related to lower levels of healthy nutrition and higher levels of unhealthy nutrition, each of which in turn was prospectively associated with reduced cognitive function. These results were robust to postnatal depression symptoms and nutrition, as well as a range of potential prenatal and postnatal confounds (i.e. poverty, teenage mother, low maternal education, parity, birth complications, substance use, criminal lifestyle, partner cruelty towards mother).


Prenatal interventions aimed at the well-being of children of parents with depression should consider targeting the nutritional environment.

Corresponding author
Dr Edward D. Barker, Department of Psychology, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, London SE5 8AF, UK. Email:
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Prenatal maternal depression symptoms and nutrition, and child cognitive function

  • Edward D. Barker (a1), Natasha Kirkham (a2), Jane Ng (a3) and Sarah K. G. Jensen (a1)
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