Child and Maternal Risk and Protective Factors for Anxiety and Depression in Infancy



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Anxiety is an adaptive response to stressful situations that can be found in all age groups including infants. Infants may experience anxiety when separating from parents, when experiencing a new or unusual situation or loud noises. These anxieties are adaptive and found in most typically developing infants, but in some situations, infants can experience high levels of anxiety and as a result develop Anxiety Disorder later in life. Although Anxiety Disorders have been well described for older children and adults, researchers only recently have started to focus on Anxiety Disorders in toddlers and preschoolers but not many focus on infants. As a result, little is understood about predictors and correlates of Infant Anxiety/Depression (AD) during the first three years of life. The main purpose of this study therefore is to examine child and maternal characteristics as risk and protective factors for AD in 24- and 36-month-old infants. Using data from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care study, the current study tested the effects of multiple child characteristics and maternal characteristics on Infant AD at 24 and 36 months longitudinally. Further, the current study examined the indirect effect of maternal depression, parenting stress, maternal personality, social support, and infant difficult temperament on Infant Anxiety. This study found that maternal depression occurring concurrently as well as previously was found associated with Infant AD significantly. Parenting stress was more influential on Infant AD at 24 than 36 months. Only maternal sensitivity at 15 months was negatively linked to Infant AD at 24 months, whereas only maternal negativity at 6 months was positively linked to Infant AD at 36 months. Maternal social support was only marginally related to Infant Anxiety. Furthermore, the current study identified an indirect path from parenting stress, maternal social support, maternal personality, and infant difficult temperament to Infant AD via maternal depression. Further Maternal social support and maternal agreeableness measured in the first year also impacted parenting stress in the second year and in turn impacted Infant Anxiety/Depression at 2 years old. Still, Infant AD at 24 months was most predictive of Infant AD at 36 months. These findings suggest the need for alleviating maternal depression and parenting stress in order to prevent the development of anxiety disorder later.

Embargo status: Restricted until 01/2023. To request the author grant access, click on the PDF link to the left.



Anxiety, Depression, Infancy