Imperial College London

Depression in pregnancy may increase child's risk of later depression

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Depression in pregnant women appears to increase the risk of their children becoming depressed in adolescence, according to new research.

Depression in late adolescence is a public health issue worldwide and identifying early-life risk factors could help to guide prevention and intervention efforts, say the authors of the study, from the University of Bristol, University College London, Imperial College London, Oxford University and the University of Rochester, New York.

The researchers examined possible associations between prenatal and postnatal depression in women and later depression in their children at age 18. Researchers analysed data from more than 4,500 parents and their adolescent children in the UK.

The findings show that children are more likely to have depression at age 18 if their mothers were depressed during the pregnancy.  For mothers with lower levels of education, postnatal depression was also a risk factor for later depression in the child. The findings are published in JAMA Psychiatry.

Dr Paul Ramchandani, a co-author of the study from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, said: “This paper seems to show that stress or depression in mums during pregnancy really can have a potentially long-lasting impact on their children’s mental health. 

“The work starts to disentangle the effects of maternal depression during pregnancy from depression occurring in the postnatal period, about which much more is known. 

“Overall the effects are quite small, as you might expect them to be when we are looking at an outcome 18 years later, and it is important to remember that many children will not be affected, even if their mother has had depression. 

“Nonetheless it highlights the importance of pregnancy for the starting of brain development, and the large potential benefits of helping women with high levels of depression at this time – both for them, and their developing child.”

Reference

R.M. Pearson et al. ‘Maternal Depression During Pregnancy and the Postnatal Period: Risks and Possible Mechanisms for Offspring Depression at Age 18 Years’ JAMA Psychiatry. Published online October 09, 2013. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.2163

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Sam Wong

Sam Wong
School of Professional Development

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