Prenatal Alcohol Exposure and Depressive Features in Children

Authors

  • Mary J. O'Connor,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychiatry, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California.
    2. Department of Neuropsychiatric Institute, Los Angeles, California.
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  • Connie Kasari

    1. Department of Psychiatry, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California.
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Reprint requests: Mary J. O'Connor, M.D., UCLA School of Medicine, Rm 68–265A; Neuropsychiatric Institute, 760 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90024; Fax: 310–825–2682; E-mail: moconnor@mednet.ucla.edu

Abstract

Background: This study examined the association between prenatal alcohol exposure and self-report of depressive symptoms in 5- to 6-year-old children. Higher levels of prenatal alcohol exposure were hypothesized to be associated with endorsement of a greater number of depressive symptoms in children. It was also hypothesized that maternal depression, although associated with drinking behavior, would contribute independently to outcome. Finally, the mother's behavior toward the child, as well as current drinking practices, were postulated to mediate the relationship between prenatal alcohol exposure and child depressive symptoms.

Methods: Participants were 41 mother-child dyads who had been followed longitudinally since the children were 1 year of age. Self-report questionnaires for maternal and child depression were used.

Results: Results revealed that prenatal alcohol exposure, maternal depression, and child gender seemed to be highly associated with child depressive symptoms. Girls who had higher levels of prenatal alcohol exposure and whose mothers acknowledged higher levels of depression endorsed the highest number of depressive symptoms. Neither the mother's behavior in interaction with the child nor her current level of alcohol consumption mediated the relationship.

Conclusions: The importance of considering prenatal alcohol exposure as a risk variable in the prediction of childhood-onset depression and the possible neurological mechanisms underlying depression in children with alcohol exposure in utero are discussed.

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