Psychological Medicine

Original Articles

The duration and timing of maternal depression as a moderator of the relationship between dependent interpersonal stress, contextual risk and early child dysregulation

E. D. Barker 

Developmental Psychopathology Laboratory, Department of Psychological Sciences, Birkbeck, University of London, UK


Background Risk factors that are associated with depression in the mother also negatively affect the child. This research sought to extend current knowledge by examining the duration and timing of maternal depression as a moderator of: (1) the impact of dependent interpersonal stress (DIS), such as partner conflict or low social support, and contextual risk (e.g. poverty) on child dysregulation; and (2) continuity in early child dysregulation.

Method Mother–child pairs (n = 12 152) who participated in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) were examined between pregnancy and age 4 years. Data on maternal depression were collected five times between pregnancy and 33 months postpartum; on DIS and contextual risk three times between pregnancy and 33 months; and on child dysregulation at age 2 and 4 years.

Results Longitudinal latent class analysis identified a class of mothers (10%) who evinced a chronic level of depression between pregnancy and 33 months. For chronic-depressed versus non-depressed mothers, the results indicate that: (1) DIS predicted higher child dysregulation if experienced between pregnancy and age 2; (2) contextual risk had a differential effect on child dysregulation if experienced during pregnancy; and (3) children had higher continuity in dysregulation between age 2 and age 4.

Conclusions Assessing the impact of the timing and duration of maternal depression, and different types of co-occurring risk factors, on child well-being is important. Maternal depression and associated DIS, in comparison to contextual risk, may be more responsive to intervention.

(Received July 01 2012)

(Revised September 03 2012)

(Accepted September 27 2012)

(Online publication November 06 2012)

Key words

  • Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children;
  • child dysregulation;
  • contextual risk;
  • dependent interpersonal stress;
  • maternal depression


Address for correspondence: Dr E. D. Barker, Department of Psychological Science, Birkbeck, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX, UK. (Email: