Mom's depression during pregnancy may affect mental health of the baby, too

Depression during pregnancy is a common occurrence, and new research shows that it might actually be harmful to baby development. According to new research, moms who experience depression while pregnant are more likely to find that their children also exhibit serious symptoms of clinical depression before the age of 18, reported The Guardian.

A large-scale study from Bristol University, published in JAMA Psychiatry, suggests that the levels of cortisol may affect the development of the fetus in the womb. Individuals often experience raised levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with high stress levels, during periods of depression. This chemical imbalance in turn affects baby development, making them more susceptible to depression themselves.

The study was led by Rebecca Pearson, research epidemiologist at Bristol University's School of Social and Community Medicine, and fellow researchers who looked at data on the mental health of approximately 4,500 parents and their adolescent children. Pearson and her team found that, while the state of depression in the mother was likely to impact instances of depression in the child, the state of depression in the father did not seem to have any impact on the child's mental health. This led the researchers to pinpoint the hormone cortisol.

Medical professionals call for more attention to prenatal depression
These findings have led study authors as well as field experts to call for more help for women who are depressed during pregnancy, citing this study, which confirmed that a person's mental  health development starts before birth.

"The message is clear: helping women who are depressed in pregnancy will not only alleviate their suffering but also the suffering of the next generation," said Carmine Pariante, professor of biological psychiatry at King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry. "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."

Women who are pregnant and experiencing symptoms of depression should talk to their current doctors to get help. He or she can provide a referral to a mental health specialist who may be able to help control symptoms and give both Mom and baby the best chance of life-long mental health.

Are you surprised to learn that Mom's depression can impact her baby? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.