Objective Maternal depression is common among mothers of very low birthweight (VLBW) infants. In a cohort of mother–VLBW infant dyads followed to preschool age, the authors assessed the impact of maternal depression on mothers' perceptions of their children's social aptitude and reported participation in age-appropriate preschool activities.
Methods Longitudinal multivariable analysis of a nationally representative sample of VLBW infants in the USA. Models were adjusted for children's developmental abilities according to the Bayley Scales of Infant Development, Mental Development Index.
Results 800 VLBW singletons (mean gestational age 28.9 weeks) were analysed. During the preschool years, depressed mothers perceived their children's social abilities more negatively than non-depressed mothers. Specifically, they saw their children as less likely to be able to share with others (aOR 0.37, 95% CI 0.14 to 0.96), make friends (aOR 0.58, 95% CI 0.35 to 0.96) or play independently (aOR 0.30, 95% CI 0.16 to 0.58). These negative perceptions were not shared by the children's preschool teachers. Children of depressed mothers were also less likely to participate in age-appropriate preschool activities (aOR 0.30, 95% CI 0.16 to 0.58). Each of these associations either lost significance or were substantially attenuated in a separate population of former healthy term infants.
Conclusion Among former VLBW infants, maternal depression is associated with negative perceptions of children's social abilities and decreased participation in preschool activities. Maternal mental health should be considered in ongoing efforts to maximise the social-emotional development of preterm infants.
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Funding The authors thank the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for their support of MS under their Physician Faculty Scholars Program, as well as the US National Institute of Mental Health for their support of MS through career developmental award K23MH074079.
Competing interests None.
Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the Boston University Medical Center.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.