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Maternal social support during and after pregnancy and child cognitive ability: examining timing effects in two cohorts.

Psychological Medicine 2023 December 14
BACKGROUND: Maternal anxiety, depression, and stress during and after pregnancy are negatively associated with child cognitive development. However, the contribution of positive maternal experiences, such as social support, to child cognitive development has received less attention. Furthermore, how maternal experience of social support during specific developmental periods impacts child cognitive development is largely unknown.

METHODS: Using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC; n = 5784) and the Prediction and Prevention of Preeclampsia and Intrauterine Growth Restriction study (PREDO; n = 420), we investigated the associations between maternal perceived social support during and after pregnancy and child's general cognitive ability at 8 years of age, assessed with the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC). Bayesian relevant life course modeling was used to investigate timing effects of maternal social support on child cognitive ability.

RESULTS: In both cohorts, higher maternal perceived social support during pregnancy was associated with higher performance on the WISC, independent of sociodemographic factors and concurrent maternal symptoms of depression and anxiety. In ALSPAC, pregnancy emerged as a sensitive period for the effects of perceived social support on child cognitive ability, with a stronger effect of social support during pregnancy than after pregnancy on child cognitive ability.

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings, supported from two prospective longitudinal cohorts, suggest a distinct role of maternal perceived social support during pregnancy for cognitive development in children. Our study suggests that interventions aimed at increasing maternal social support during pregnancy may be an important strategy for promoting maternal and child well-being.

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