Maternal depression and primary healthcare use for children: a population-based cohort study in Denmark

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BACKGROUND: Depression is a common mental illness worldwide. The offspring of a mother with depression has higher risk of developing mental and physical illness.

AIM: This study aimed to investigate the association between the timing of maternal depression and the use of primary health care for the offspring.

DESIGN AND SETTING: A population-based birth cohort study in Danish primary care using Danish national registers.

METHOD: All Danish children born between 1 January 2000 and 31 December 2013 (n = 869 140 children) were included in the study. The primary outcome was number and type of annual contacts with the GP. The secondary outcome was specific services used by the GP to assess inflammatory and infectious disease in the children. Exposure was maternal depression of four categories: non-depressed, recent, previous, and past depression. The association was expressed as adjusted incidence rate ratios (IRR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI).

RESULTS: Maternal depression was associated with a higher use of primary health care for all three categories of depression. The strongest association was found for children of a mother with recent depression; they had 16% more contacts than children of a non-depressed mother (adjusted IRR = 1.16, 95% CI = 1.15 to 1.17), and 19-24% more positive infectious-related tests were found in this group.

CONCLUSION: Exposure to maternal depression was associated with a significantly higher use of primary health care for the offspring for all exposure categories. These findings reveal that healthcare use is higher for the offspring exposed to maternal depression, even several years after expected remission. The higher ratio of positive tests indicates that exposed children are ill with infectious disease more often.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice
Pages (from-to)E182-E189
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


  • Child
  • Depressive disorder
  • General practice
  • Mothers
  • Primary health care


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