Introduction: Behaviour problems are estimated to be prevalent in one in twelve preschool-aged children. Existing literature supports an association between perinatal mental health and child behavioural development; however, these studies are limited by cross-sectional designs. The present study aimed to: 1) identify distinct trajectories of maternal anxiety symptoms across 8 time points from mid-pregnancy to 6 years postpartum; and 2) investigate any associations between trajectories of maternal anxiety symptoms and child behavioural outcomes across three time points from age 6 to 11.
Methods: A secondary data analysis (n=9122) was conducted using data from ALSPAC, a UK-based longitudinal birth cohort study. Maternal anxiety and child behaviour were assessed using the Crown Crisp Experiential Index and Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire respectively at all time points. Longitudinal Latent Class Analysis was conducted to identify maternal anxiety trajectories, and Latent Growth Analysis was run to investigate the associations between these trajectories and child behavioural outcomes, while controlling for potential covariates.
Results: The analyses revealed three distinct trajectories of maternal anxiety symptoms from pregnancy to 6 years postpartum following low (55.21%), subclinical (33.91%), and high (10.88%) patterns over time. The low, subclinical, and high maternal anxiety symptom trajectories persistently showed low, subclinical, and high mean CCEI scores from pregnancy to six years postpartum. Compared to mothers with low anxiety symptoms, mothers with high and subclinical symptoms had a 3.31-5.69 and 2.11-2.77-fold increased likelihood of having children with behavioural problems across all time points respectively, while controlling for potential covariates.
Conclusion: Our findings provide support for the association between elevated maternal anxiety symptoms from pregnancy to 6 years postpartum and increasing child behavioural outcomes at age 6, 9, and 11. The results suggest that the chronicity and severity of maternal anxiety symptoms is a predictor of child behavioural development, rather than timing of maternal anxiety.