Biological embedding of early-life stress:

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Maternal postpartum depressive symptoms (MPDS) are associated with later child behavioural problems. However, the majority of studies rely on maternal reports of behavioural problems, disregarding the child’s own perspective. Moreover, the underlying biological mechanisms relating MPDS to child behavioural problems are poorly understood. This study investigated whether MPDS in the first 6 months of an infant’s life predict behavioural problems at age the age of 10, using both maternal and child reports. Moreover, we examined whether this link is mediated by child diurnal cortisol and telomere length at the age of 6. Participants were 193 healthy mother-child dyads. At 3 and 6 months postpartum, mothers reported about MPDS. At age 6, children provided saliva and buccal swab samples to calculate diurnal cortisol and telomere length, respectively. At age 10, mothers and children reported about internalizing and externalizing behaviour problems. Structural equation modelling showed no association between MPDS and both maternal and child reports of behavioural problems. Subsequently, no mediation of this link by diurnal cortisol and telomere length was found. Additionally, lower diurnal cortisol was related to child reports of internalizing problems and shorter telomere length to child reports of internalizing and externalizing problems. The results indicate that, in low-risk samples, MPDS are not associated with child behavioural problems in late childhood. Since we found a link between child diurnal cortisol and telomere length with child, but not maternal, reports of behavioural problems, future research examining associations between child biological systems and behaviour should also consider the child’s perspective. Keywords: postpartum depression, early-life stress, telomeres, child behavioural problems 1. Introduction Maternal postpartum depression is a major public health concern, affecting around 13% of women worldwide
Faculteit der Sociale Wetenschappen