Depression in pregnancy increases risk of mental health problems in children

Posted on September 30, 2016

Depression in pregnancy is thought to affect up to one in five women globally in the late stages of pregnancy and shortly after birth. It is characterised by low mood and feelings of hopelessness, and is brought on by a number of factors that can include life events such as bereavement, and changes in brain chemistry.

Previous work from a team at Imperial College London suggests depression during pregnancy may affect the development of the baby while in the womb, as well as affecting bonding between mother and child after birth.

Now, the same team have shown that depression or anxiety can reduce the enzyme in the placenta that breaks down the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol, possibly causing more foetal exposure to the hormone. The foetus may also undergo epigenetic changes under stress, where underlying DNA stays the same but expression of that DNA is altered, perhaps affecting mental health during childhood.
The new review examined studies of mental health in children under five years old in low and middle income countries such as Bangladesh and Brazil. The report highlights the specific mental health requirements of mothers and children in poorer countries that are not necessarily relevant to high-income countries.

Depression in mothers in low- and middle-income countries is common during and just after pregnancy. Women are more likely than in richer countries to experience intimate partner violence and have little social support. Furthermore, unintended pregnancies are more common, as are malnourishment, infections, and crowded living conditions.

The risk factors are often more intense and more common than in high-income countries. These factors also intensify one another – for example, a malnourished mother or child may have too weak an immune system to fight an infection, exacerbating the mother’s stress which then contributes to depression.

Maternal depression in these countries is also more likely to result in poor nutrition, increased substance use, inadequate antenatal care, pre-eclampsia, low birthweight, preterm delivery, and suicide.

The authors argue that because of the varying risk factors between different income countries, interventions for poorer countries should focus on the issues that affect these countries specifically.

Category(s):Child Development, Depression, Pregnancy & Birthing

Source material from Imperial College London

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