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Maternal Difficulties Increase Risk of Behavior Problems in Children

Behavioral problems are more likely to occur in children whose mothers report difficulties with substance abuse, domestic violence and mental health, one year after delivery, reports a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. //

The presence of anxiety / mood disorders, smoking, maternal drinking, substance or drug abuse, maternal exposure to domestic violence are all factors that can contribute to behavior problems in children. Although previous studies have shown that each of these factors can contribute to the same, the combined effect of these factors has not been caused.

The researchers analyzed the effect of the maternal health factors, spilt into three categories (mental health, domestic violence and substance abuse) on more than 2, 756 children born in 18 major U.S. cities between 1998 and 2000. The children’s parents were required to provide information on their child health status following one year of delivery. Additionally, a follow up study was conducted after 1 year and three years of enrollment, with emphasis on episodes of aggressive, inattention/hyperactive, anxious/depressed or conduct.

At the end of one year, it was found that children of mothers with history of substance abuse, mental illness or domestic violence had at least one type of behavior problem (22%). Furthermore, the risk of developing behavior disorder at the end of three years increased with increasing areas of difficulty with respect to the mother.

Reports of aggression among children at the end of three years increased from 7%, 12%, 17% and 19% for reports of difficulty faced by mothers on a scale of zero, one, two or three areas, respectively. With respect to anxiety and depression, the figures rose from 9% to 14% and 16% to 27% respectively.

A 7% to 12% and a 15% to 19% increase in the incidence of inattention and hyperactivity were noted. The maternal effect was found to significant even when other factors such as sociodemographic factors, prenatal habits of the mother and presence of mental illness and substance abuse were taken into consideration.

‘Those providing health care to children face many barriers in identifying and responding to these conditions, but there is evidence that mothers appear open to empathic inquiries about how they are doing and that mothers also understand that their own well-being is related to that of their children. Our study suggests that, by 3 years of age, there is already evidence of the effect of adverse childhood experiences, occurring in this study in the form of parental mental health problems, substance use and domestic violence,’ write the authors.

‘Whether a clinician is focused primarily on the care of children, adults or pregnant women, there is the potential to help disrupt this intergenerational transmission of poor health,’ they concluded.

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