A new study has shown that infants and toddlers whose mothers are severely depressed are almost three times more likely to suffer accidental injuries than other children in the same age group.
The findings of the study suggest that proper treatment for depression would improve not only the mothers' health, but the health of young children as well.
During the study, UAB psychologist David Schwebel, Ph.D., director of the UAB Youth Safety Lab, examined the difference between mothers with severe, chronic depression and those who were moderately depressed as their children grew from birth to first grade.
Schwebel said that a likely cause for the link between severe maternal depression and young children's injury risk is that chronically depressed mothers may not appropriately safeguard the physical environments that children engage in.
He said that another cause might be that symptoms of depression include inattention, poor concentration and irritability, which 'might lead to poor or inconsistent supervision and enforcement of safety-related rules.'
For the study, Schwebel and his colleagues used a sample of 1,364 mothers included in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care.
The mothers were periodically asked to list all their children's injuries that had required professional medical treatment.
Also, on four occasions during the study, the mothers were asked to rate how often they experienced symptoms of depression.
Only 2.5 percent of the mothers in the sample reported severe, clinical depression and 15.5 percent reported being moderately depressed.
The researchers found that young children, from birth to 3 years, whose mothers suffered severe, chronic depression, were three times more likely to experience accidental injuries than infants and toddlers whose mothers were only moderately depressed.
They also found that even when taking into account the families' socio-economic status, parenting styles, and the children's sex, temperament and behaviour - the link between severe, chronic depression in mothers and injuries in young children remained consistent.
However, when children grew older, from age 3 to first grade, there was little difference in the injury rates of those whose mothers suffered from severe depression and those who reported being moderately depressed when the children were toddlers.
The study did not address why the older children fared better, but Schwebel said that older kids often begin making their own decisions about whether to act in safe or dangerous ways.
"Therefore, parents matter a little less - and in particular, inadequate supervision by a depressed mother might not influence the child's safety as much as it does during the toddler years," the authors said.
The study is published in the Advanced Access edition of the Journal of Paediatric Psychology.