Maternal depression and non-specific health complaints in the offspring: a cross-sectional study in Danish primary care

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BACKGROUND: Maternal depression has been linked to adverse outcomes in the offspring. Existing literature is mainly based on parental reports, which can be an unreliable source when the parent has depression.

AIM: To explore if maternal depression was associated with daily health complaints and low self-assessed health (SAH) in the offspring.

DESIGN AND SETTING: Participants were 45 727 children from the Danish National Birth Cohort recruited between 1996 and 2002. At 11-year follow-up, mothers and their children were invited to complete a questionnaire. Maternal depression was categorised into: no depression, first-time treatment, continued treatment, post-treatment, and relapse.

METHOD: Binomial regression was used to estimate the adjusted prevalence proportion ratio (aPPR) of frequent health complaints and low SAH in children of mothers with depression compared to children of mothers without depression.

RESULTS: The prevalence of any daily health complaint was 11.4%, daily somatic complaints 4.1%, daily mental complaints 8.9%, both daily mental and somatic complaints 1.5%, and low SAH 5.3%. Children of mothers with depression (any category) were more likely to report a daily health complaint: first-time treatment aPPR 1.35 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.96 to 1.85), continued treatment aPPR 1.59 (95% CI = 1.37 to 1.85), post-treatment aPPR 1.30 (95% CI = 1.20 to 1.41), and relapse aPPR 1.56 (95% CI = 1.35 to 1.79). Children of mothers with depression were also more likely to report low SAH: first-time treatment aPPR 1.58 (95% CI = 0.99 to 2.54), continued treatment aPPR 1.86 (95% CI = 1.51 to 2.28), post-treatment aPPR 1.34 (95% CI = 1.19 to 1.50), and relapse aPPR 1.56 (95% CI = 1.26 to 1.93). Girls had a higher prevalence of mental and somatic health complaints and more often reported low SAH compared to boys.

CONCLUSION: Treatment of maternal depression was associated with higher prevalence of daily health complaints and low SAH in the offspring at age 11 years. The association was strongest for children of mothers with continued depression or relapse.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice
Pages (from-to)e105-e112
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 2021

    Research areas

  • child health, depression, health impact assessment, health status, maternal exposure

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