Early intervention to prevent adverse child emotional and behavioural development following maternal depression in pregnancy: study protocol for a randomised controlled trial
Background: Substantial evidence indicates that maternal depression during pregnancy (i.e., antenatal depression) is associated not only with maternal wellbeing but also with child emotional and behavioural development. Children of antenatally depressed women are at risk of emotional and behavioural problems, including internalising problems (e.g., anxiety and depression) and externalising problems (e.g., attention problems), that may last at least to adolescence. These enduring effects also constitute an enormous economic cost. Despite the seriousness of this problem, until recently there existed very few controlled studies evaluating whether active psychological treatment for antenatal depression can prevent adverse child outcomes. Our previous pilot randomised controlled trial (RCT) exploring the effect of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for antenatal depression on child outcomes showed promising results. We aim to assess whether treating antenatal depression with an evidence-based 8-week structured CBT program can prevent or ameliorate adverse child developmental outcomes at 2 years of age. Methods: Pregnant women ≤ 30 weeks gestation diagnosed with a depressive disorder are recruited and randomised to CBT or treatment as usual (TAU). The target sample size is 230 and the primary outcome measure is the infant Internalising scale of the Child Behaviour Checklist (CBCL) at 24 months of age. Secondary infant outcome measures at 24 months are the Externalising scale of the CBCL and the motor and cognitive development subscales of the Ages & Stages Questionnaire (ASQ-3). Additional secondary outcome measures are subscales of the Revised Infant Behaviour Questionnaire (IBQ-R), ASQ-3 and the ASQ-Socio-Emotional (ASQ-SE) at 3 and 12 months of age and the quality of mother-infant interaction at 3 and 24 months. Maternal measures, including demographic data, depression diagnosis, depressive and anxiety symptoms, perceived stress and parenting stress, are collected across all time points. Discussion: The trial is ongoing and recruitment was slowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If results suggest a beneficial effect of antenatal depression treatment on infant outcomes, the project could have repercussions for standard antenatal care, for maternal and infant health services and for preventing the intergenerational transmission of mental health disorders.