Background Mothers often experience physical and psychological difficulties during the post-natal period and these may continue through the early years of raising children and have negative effects on engagement and caregiving. Pathways between maternal depression, parental engagement and caregiving and children's subsequent development have been described in longitudinal studies; yet, less is known about how other aspects of maternal health may influence children's development.
Methods A longitudinal analysis within the Millennium Cohort Study was conducted including 7906 families from England. Maternal general health and psychological well-being were assessed when their children were 9 months and 3 years old, socio-demographic characteristics were assessed at 9 months, and engagement and caregiving were assessed at 3 years. These were examined as predictors of children's learning and development and behaviour at age 5.
Results There are clear associations between maternal general health and children's development with regard to both learning and development and behaviour. These effects are reduced if psychological distress is taken into account; yet, maternal general health maintains importance as a predictor for children's subsequent development. There is evidence of an association via engagement and caregiving which links maternal health to children's development and evidence of the influence of underlying socio-demographic disadvantage.
Conclusion General maternal health as well as psychological well-being during the early years of raising children may be influential for children's development. This study suggests the need for a broader recognition of maternal health as well as psychological well-being as a foundation for family well-being, and speaks to support for mothers in maintaining engagement and caregiving for their children during periods of ill health.