(1) To investigate the impact of perinatal common mental disorders (CMD) in Ethiopia on the risk of key illnesses of early infancy: diarrhoea, fever and acute respiratory illnesses (ARI) and (2) to explore the potential mediating role of maternal health behaviours.
Population-based cohort study.
Demographic surveillance site in a predominantly rural area of Ethiopia.
1065 women (86.3% of eligible) in the third trimester of pregnancy were recruited and 954 (98.6%) of surviving, singleton mother–infant pairs were followed up until 2 months after birth.
Main exposure measure
High levels of CMD symptoms, as measured by the locally validated Self-Reporting Questionnaire (SRQ-20 ≥6), in pregnancy only, postnatally only and at both time-points (‘persistent’).
Main outcome measures
Maternal report of infant illness episodes in first 2 months of life.
The percentages of infants reported to have experienced diarrhoea, ARI and fever were 26.0%, 25.0% and 35.1%, respectively. Persistent perinatal CMD symptoms were associated with 2.15 times (95% CI 1.39 to 3.34) increased risk of infant diarrhoea in a fully adjusted model. The strength of association was not affected by including potential mediators: breast feeding practices, hygiene, the infant's vaccination status or impaired maternal functioning. Persistent perinatal CMD was not associated with infant ARI or fever after adjusting for confounders.
Persistent perinatal CMD was associated with infant diarrhoea in this low-income country setting. The observed relationship was independent of maternal health-promoting practices. Future research should further explore the mechanisms underlying the observed association to inform intervention strategies.