Maternal depressive symptoms are negatively associated with child growth and development: Evidence from rural India

Maternal depression has been suggested as a risk factor for both poor child growth and development in many low‐ and middle‐income countries, but the validity of many studies is hindered by small sample sizes, varying cut‐offs used in depression diagnostics, and incomplete control of confounding factors. This study examines the association between maternal depressive symptoms (MDSs) and child physical growth and cognitive development in Madhya Pradesh, India, where poverty, malnutrition, and poor mental health coexist. Data were from a baseline household survey (n = 2,934) of a randomized controlled trial assessing an early childhood development programme. Multivariate linear and logistic regression analyses were conducted, adjusting for socio‐economic factors to avoid confounding the association of mental health and child outcomes. MDS (measured using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Short Depression Scale) was categorized as low, medium, and high in 47%, 42%, and 10% of mothers, respectively. The prevalence of child developmental delay ranged from 16% to 27% for various development domains. Compared with children of mothers with low MDS, those of high MDS mothers had lower height‐for‐age, weight‐for‐age, and weight‐for‐height z‐scores (0.22, 0.21, and 0.15, respectively), a higher rate of stunting and underweight (~1.5 times), and higher rate of developmental delay (partial adjusted odds ratio ranged from 1.3–1.8 for different development domains and fully adjusted odds ratio = 1.4 for fine motor). Our results—that MDS is significantly associated with both child undernutrition and development delay—add to the call for practical interventions to address maternal depression to simultaneously address multiple outcomes for both women and children.