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Maternal Depression May Correlate With Daughter's Earlier Puberty

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Both Joffe and Licht say that the one aspect of the study that may have relevance is the issue of maternal depression. While Ellis himself says that this study is simply observational and no clinical conclusions can be drawn, Joffe and Licht think that the issue of a mother's or any family member's depression having an effect on family dysfunction can be a real message.

"One shouldn't take home the message that depression in and of itself is going to cause huge disruption of this sort in their daughter, but I think that ideally the extent to which the child can be kept involved with the mother during her depression is important," Licht says. A therapist could act as a mediator to help the mother and daughter maintain a functional relationship.

"Depression can be as severe an emotional withdrawal as physical death can be, and it can have its impact on the child," he says.

And whether maternal depression can cause early onset of puberty will remain debatable, Joffe says, but "the fact that depression has effects on other family members is really important ... so it's a real argument for identifying [depression] and getting treatment."

Ellis says that the study's findings are not clinically applicable. "Until the findings have been replicated on other samples, it would not be advisable to use these data as a basis for clinical decisions," he says.

Vital Information:

  • New research has shown that a mother's mood disorder or new relationship following a divorce is associated with an earlier onset of puberty among daughters.
  • One expert cautions that some other factor could be causing early puberty in these girls.
  • Researchers hypothesize that the introduction of a new stepfather or boyfriend of the mother exposes the child to pheromones, and this could influence earlier onset of puberty.
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