October 5, 2010

Depression + Pregnancy = Health Risks for Babies

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Reviewed by: 
Joseph V. Madia, MD By:

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Preterm labor, low birth weight among potential risks

(dailyRx News) As if dealing with symptoms of depression while pregnant weren’t enough, a new study suggests expectant mothers’ depression may impact their babies’ health in surprising and significant ways.

According to a report published Oct. 4 in the Archives of General Psychiatry, depression increases risks for preterm birth and low birth weight.

That may not sound like a big deal, but preterm birth – labor before the 37th week of pregnancy – and low birth weight are catalysts for a number of serious immediate and long-term health effects for babies, including early childhood mortality, respiratory distress, neurological and developmental impairment, cerebral palsy, blindness, hearing loss and other disabilities.  

Between 9 percent and 23 percent of pregnant women experience clinical depression.

A number of matters can affect depression, including socioeconomic status.

"In the United States, the likelihood of experiencing premature birth is even greater for depressed pregnant women living in poverty than for depressed pregnant women from middle- to high-socioeconomic backgrounds," said Dr. Nancy Grote, lead arthor of the report and a University of Washington (UW) research associate professor of social work. She added that poor women in America are twice as likely to experience depression compared to other American women.

At this point, you might be wondering what depression is, exactly, especially if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. That might be more easily answered by defining what depression isn’t. Depression isn’t feeling blue or sad occasionally. That’s normal. Depression isn’t crying during sad movies or touching television commercials or after a long, stressful day. That’s normal, too.  

Although the aforementioned could be symptoms of depression, the disorder is more specifically defined as having these or other symptoms – such as feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and pessimism; difficulty concentrating and a lack of interest in what used to interest you – consecutively for two weeks or longer.  Depression can also affect behaviors, such as eating and sleeping habits.

Medication and psychotherapy have been shown to alleviate depression symptoms.

Some antidepressant drugs should not be taken by pregnant women or women who plan to become pregnant, however. Few medications have been proven totally safe during pregnancy, and some antidepressants have been linked to health problems in babies. It’s important to discuss these potential risks with your doctor.

The UW study suggests universal screening for depression and ready access to mental health care during pregnancy as critical initiatives. 

Another recent study suggests that children whose mothers have a genetic predisposition for impaired serotonin production (a well-known contributor to feelings of well-being) appear more likely to develop attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) later in life.

With these facts in mind, it’s important to keep a check on your mood, especially while pregnant – for your sake and your baby’s.

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Reviewed by: 
Joseph V. Madia, MD
Review Date: 
October 6, 2010

Last Updated:
February 16, 2011