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The perinatal origins of childhood anxiety disorders and the role of early-life maternal predictor

Galbally, M.ORCID: 0000-0003-3909-1918, Watson, S.J.ORCID: 0000-0001-7228-3490, van Rossum, E.F.C., Chen, W., de Kloet, E.R. and Lewis, A.J.ORCID: 0000-0002-2519-7976 (2020) The perinatal origins of childhood anxiety disorders and the role of early-life maternal predictor. Psychological Medicine, 52 (3). pp. 506-514.

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The development of childhood anxiety disorders (CADs) is likely to depend on pathways that can be programmed by early-life risk factors. We test the hypothesis that early-life maternal factors can predict this programming effect on CAD.


Data were obtained from 198 women and children from the Mercy Pregnancy and Emotional Wellbeing Study (MPEWS), a cohort study with data collected across pregnancy, postpartum and until 4 years of age. Maternal antenatal depression was measured using the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV (SCID-IV), together with antenatal hair cortisol concentrations, maternal childhood trauma and parenting stress at 6 months postpartum. CAD was assessed with the Preschool Age Psychiatric Assessment and the Child Behaviour Checklist.


Antenatal depression, a history of maternal childhood trauma and lower gestational age at birth were each associated with anxiety disorders at 4 years of age in their children. A multivariate binary logistic model with these early predictors explained approximately 9% of variance in CAD outcome at 4 years of age; however, only maternal trauma and gestational age were significant predictors in the model. The effect of early parenting stress on CAD was found to vary by the concentration of maternal antenatal hair cortisol, whereby postpartum parenting stress was associated with CAD only when there were higher maternal antenatal cortisol levels.


This study suggests the importance of maternal factors pre-conception, pregnancy and in the postnatal period, which predict CADs and this is consistent with a developmental programming hypothesis for CAD.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): College of Science, Health, Engineering and Education
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Copyright: © 2020 The Author(s)
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