Prior studies have reported conflicting results regarding the association of prenatal maternal depression with offspring cortisol levels. We examined associations of high levels of prenatal depressive symptoms with child cortisol biomarkers.
In Project Viva (n = 925, Massachusetts USA), mothers reported their depressive symptoms using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) during pregnancy, cord blood glucocorticoids were measured at delivery, and child hair cortisol levels were measured in mid-childhood (mean (SD) age: 7.8 (0.8) years) and early adolescence (mean (SD) age: 13.2 (0.9) years). In the Generation R Study (n = 1644, Rotterdam, The Netherlands), mothers reported depressive symptoms using the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI) during pregnancy, and child hair cortisol was measured at a mean (SD) age of 6.0 (0.5) years. We used cutoffs of ≥ 13 for the EPDS and > 0.75 for the BSI to indicate high levels of prenatal depressive symptoms. We used multivariable linear regression models adjusted for child sex and age (at outcome), and maternal pre-pregnancy BMI, education, social support from friends/family, pregnancy smoking status, marital status, and household income to assess associations separately in each cohort. We also meta-analyzed childhood hair cortisol results from both cohorts.
8.0% and 5.1% of women respectively experienced high levels of prenatal depressive symptoms in Project Viva and the Generation R Study. We found no associations between high levels of maternal depressive symptoms during pregnancy and child cortisol biomarkers in either cohort.
The present study does not find support for the direct link between high levels of maternal depressive symptoms and offspring cortisol levels.