AP

SEPTEMBER 04, 01:08 EDT

Study: Mom's Blues Can Hinder Child
By ANJETTA McQUEEN
AP Education Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mothers who suffer from depression need to seek help because their blues could affect their children's development, researchers for the government say.

``Women need to know if they feel depressed, it's not only about them,'' said Sarah Friedman, who coordinated the study for the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development. ``It's also going to affect their children.''

Children do worse on developmental tests if their mothers are depressed, but a mother's depression does less damage if the family is well off financially, said the study, released Friday.

Researchers studied 1,200 families to see if a mother's depression hindered her children's learning ability in the crucial first three years of life.

They questioned mothers beginning at their children's births and visited their homes to watch mother-child interaction. When the children were 3, their readiness for school — things such as counting and knowing colors and shapes — was tested.

Mothers who were chronically depressed were more likely to have children who scored lower on the tests, the eight-year study concluded. The results will be published in the September issue of the journal Developmental Psychology.

Depressed women who had higher incomes and other advantages such as higher education were more sensitive to their children's needs, and their depression had lesser effect on their children.

``Money seems to be a key issue,'' said one of the researchers, University of North Carolina child development specialist Martha Cox. ``It could be a case of women in positions of seeking better outside child care, or giving themselves more breaks, or buying more services.''

``These women have more options or more things to turn to, to keep their depression from affecting their relationship with the child,'' Cox said.

Reseachers recruited families from Arkansas, California, Kansas, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Washington and Wisconsin.

A mother's depression is problematical because of the theory that depressed moms won't interact with their children. Researchers said maternal blues may have the worst effect on the youngest babies, who depend more on their mothers.

The study showed that if mothers were particularly sensitive to their babies, regardless of depression, the children developed better.

``Exploration and play are such an important way that children learn in the early years,'' Cox explained. ``Having a mother that can facilitate that exploration and play is important to the children's development.''

The children in the study now are in the third grade and will be followed at least through the sixth grade.

Fourteen percent of the families were headed by single mothers, but interactions with fathers and other adults were not measured.

The study also may have underestimated depression's impact because teen-age mothers, disabled children or substance abusers were not studied, and the poorest families dropped out of the project.

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