Maternal anxiety during pregnancy is a risk factor for child behavioral/emotional problems. Knowledge about explanatory factors mediating this link is scarce. Maternal anxiety during pregnancy may be an indicator of adverse postnatal environmental conditions, including maternal anxiety and poor parenting, possibly affecting child behavior. This study investigated whether maternal anxiety and mindful parenting in early childhood mediate the association between maternal anxiety during pregnancy and child behavioral/emotional problems.
This study was based on a sample of 118 mother-child dyads who participated in a cohort study that followed participants from pregnancy until 4 years after birth. At 21 weeks’ gestation and when the child was 4 years old, mothers completed questionnaires to assess state anxiety (State-Trait Anxiety Inventory) and general anxiety (Symptom Checklist-90 anxiety subscale). At age 4 years, mothers reported mindful parenting (Interpersonal Mindfulness in Parenting Scale) and child behavioral/emotional problems (Child Behavior Checklist).
Maternal state anxiety during pregnancy was positively associated with child internalizing problems and negatively with mindful parenting. Maternal general anxiety during pregnancy was related with more child internalizing and externalizing problems but not with mindful parenting. The association between maternal state anxiety during pregnancy and child internalizing problems was sequentially mediated via concurrent maternal general anxiety and mindful parenting.
These findings suggest that maternal anxiety during pregnancy continues into early childhood and, because of this, it subsequently affects child internalizing behavior via poor mindful parenting. Replication studies are needed before developing interventions for tackling maternal anxiety during pregnancy and promoting mindful parenting.