BACKGROUND Little is known of the behavioural adjustment of children of postnatally depressed mothers. Previous studies have relied on maternal reports, and have produced inconsistent findings.
METHOD In a prospective, longitudinal study of the five-year-old children of a community sample of postnatally depressed and well women, evidence was collected concerning the children's adjustment in the context of school, teachers being asked to complete questionnaires after the children had finished their first term.
RESULTS Family social class and the child's gender had the most pervasive influences on adjustment. However, both postnatal and recent maternal depression were associated with significantly raised levels of child disturbance, particularly among boys and those from lower social class families.
CONCLUSIONS The findings indicate a persistent effect of postnatal depression on child adjustment. They highlight the need for resources devoted to supporting mothers of young children and particularly routine screening and treatment for postnatal mood disorder.