One might wonder how exactly does maternal depressive symptoms compromise infants’ and toddlers’ cognitive development. In general, depressive symptoms include social withdrawal and lack of sensitivity, both of which may hinder a mother’s responsiveness to her infant’s developmental needs and cues such as providing early learning activities. For instance, mothers might not recognize an infant’s signal for interaction. Depression also negatively influences maternal energy and cognitive functioning, which in return interferes with their ability to offer appropriate care. Besides feelings of sadness, the loss of interest in everyday activities that is coupled with depression may decrease mothers’ motivation to expose their child to new and stimulating environments that will support cognitive development. Although social support and has been found to alleviate postpartum symptoms of depression, withdrawal and isolation symptoms of depression may decrease social support from others.
In conclusion, maternal depressive symptoms are related to lower cognitive scores in early childhood. In order to improve cognitive development, interventions must address maternal depression through various means.
• Providing access to effective mental healthcare during pregnancy up to a year after childbirth in order to decrease the suffering among women and promote positive interaction with their infants.
• Screening for maternal depression within pediatric care may assist in the identification of women at risk.
• Addressing nutritional status, families’ access to healthcare, parental educational level, and strengthening economic security, especially among underprivileged communities.
• Fostering responsive caregiving behaviors and supporting early childhood development.
Liu, Y., Kaaya, S., Chai, J., McCoy, D. C., Surkan, P. J., Black, M. M., ... & Smith-Fawzi, M. C. (2017). Maternal depressive symptoms and early childhood cognitive development: a meta-analysis. Psychological medicine, 47(4), 680-689.