A mother's depression may cause her daughter to hit puberty earlier, suggest the results of a small study.
The study expands on previous research that found a connection between stressful family relationships and early puberty. Mood disorders like depression can be one cause of stress within families, resulting in disharmony between wives and husbands and dysfunctional relationships with children, according to the study.
Study co-authors Bruce J. Ellis, PhD, of the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand and Judy Garber, PhD, of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, also posit exposure of adolescent girls to unrelated adult men, such as stepfathers, as an additional cause of early puberty.
"We propose that stepfather presence and stressful family relationships constitute separate paths to early pubertal maturation in girls," said Ellis.
The age at which girls reach puberty is also thought to be significantly influenced by genes, as well as environmental influences like nutrition, exercise, and weight. However, for the purposes of their study Ellis and Garber focused solely on the psychosocial environmental influence of family stress, caused by maternal depression, on the timing of puberty in adolescent girls.
A total of 87 adolescent girls participated in the study. The mothers of 67 of the girls had a history of mood disorders such as depression, while the remaining 20 mothers had no such history. A history of mood disorders in the mother predicted earlier puberty in the daughter, Ellis and Garber found.
In addition, the researchers noted a significant correlation between the girls' age when an unrelated father figure entered their lives and the timing of their puberty; that is, the younger the girl was when the stepfather arrived, the earlier she hit puberty. The researchers publish the results of their study in the March/April issue of Child Development.