Teenagers born to mothers who were depressed during pregnancy were at least 30% more likely to have the condition themselves by the age of 18, UK researchers found.
It suggests that treating depression in mothers-to-be could prevent depression being ‘passed on’ to their children.
While some small studies have hinted at the link, no large studies have been conducted to investigate the risk.
Researchers writing in JAMA Psychiatry looked at rates of depression among 8,937 parents and 4,566 18-year-olds living in south-west England.
Maternal and paternal depression was measured using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, which is scored out of a maximum of 30 points, with 10 or greater indicating possible depression. Their offspring were assessed using the Clinical Interview Schedule-Revised test.
Researchers found that for every five-point increase in depression scores among pregnant women, the child’s risk of developing depression in late adolescence rose by 28%.
Teenagers also had a greater risk of depression if their mother was depressed after birth and had lower levels of education. There was no such link in mothers who were better educated.
Postnatal depression in fathers showed a similar pattern, but the researchers found no link between antenatal depression and the risk to their offspring.
The authors said: ‘The findings have important implications for the nature and timing of interventions aimed at preventing depression in the offspring of depressed mothers.
‘In particular, the findings suggest that treating depression in pregnancy, irrespective of background, may be most effective.’