Maternal depression is common among mothers of very low birth weight (VLBW) infants. In a cohort of mother-VLBW infant dyads followed to preschool age, we assessed the impact of maternal depression on mothers’ perceptions of their children’s social aptitude, and reported participation in age-appropriate preschool activities.
Longitudinal multivariable analysis of a nationally representative sample of VLBW infants in the United States. Models were adjusted for children’s developmental abilities according to the Bayley Scales of Infant Development, Mental Development Index.
800 VLBW singletons (mean gestational age 28.9 weeks) were analyzed. 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, 0.96), make friends (aOR 0.58 95% CI, 0.35, 0.96), or play independently (aOR 0.30 95% CI, 0.16, 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, 0.58). Each of these associations either lost significance or were substantially attenuated in a separate population of former healthy term infants.
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 maximize the social-emotional development of preterm infants.