The British Journal of Psychiatry
Prenatal maternal depression symptoms and nutrition, and child cognitive function
Edward D. Barker, Natasha Kirkham, Jane Ng, Sarah K. G. Jensen
  • Declaration of interest




Little is currently known about how maternal depression symptoms and unhealthy nutrition during pregnancy may developmentally interrelate to negatively affect child cognitive function.


To test whether prenatal maternal depression symptoms predict poor prenatal nutrition, and whether this in turn prospectively associates with reduced postnatal child cognitive function.


In 6979 mother-offspring pairs participating in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) in the UK, maternal depression symptoms were assessed five times between 18 weeks gestation and 33 months old. Maternal reports of the nutritional environment were assessed at 32 weeks gestation and 47 months old, and child cognitive function was assessed at age 8 years.


During gestation, higher depressive symptoms were related to lower levels of healthy nutrition and higher levels of unhealthy nutrition, each of which in turn was prospectively associated with reduced cognitive function. These results were robust to postnatal depression symptoms and nutrition, as well as a range of potential prenatal and postnatal confounds (i.e. poverty, teenage mother, low maternal education, parity, birth complications, substance use, criminal lifestyle, partner cruelty towards mother).


Prenatal interventions aimed at the well-being of children of parents with depression should consider targeting the nutritional environment.


  • Funding

    Research reported in this publication was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01HD068437 to E.D.B. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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