Practitioner Review: Maternal mood in pregnancy and child development – implications for child psychology and psychiatry


  • Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared.



The empirical base suggesting a link between prenatal maternal anxiety, stress or depression and cognitive, behavioral, and biological outcomes in the infant and child has increased dramatically in the past 10 years.


In this review, we consider the relevance of prenatal maternal mood for child mental health practitioners; the empirical base for a likely causal impact of the link between prenatal anxiety, depression, or stress and child outcomes; the degree to which the available evidence is sufficient for informing or altering clinical practice; and the possible role of prenatal interventions for promoting child health and development. A selective review of PubMed, Cochrane Library and other sources was undertaken.


Clinically significant links between maternal prenatal distress and child behavioral and cognitive outcomes have been reported; predictions to stress physiology, immunology, and neurodevelopment have been reported but the effect sizes and clinical significance is less clear. Several candidate mechanisms have been proposed, with some supporting evidence. Many behavioral treatments for prenatal maternal distress exist, but their application to promoting child health is largely unknown.


Research on maternal prenatal distress is a good example of translational research and offers a strong paradigm for promoting interdisciplinary clinical research on child health and development.