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Timing of Mother's Chronic
Depression Can Affect Newborn

 

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Women who are chronically depressed throughout their pregnancy may pass their distress along to their infants, according to research presented recently at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

``In women who are depressed during pregnancy, there is transmission of some of the stress hormones to the fetus,'' said Dr. Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institutes at the University of Miami School of Medicine in Miami, Florida.

Researchers have known that depressed mothers, who may be emotionally unavailable to their infants, often have children who are more irritable, have erratic sleep patterns and are less responsive. However, the researchers suggested that the depressed mother's biochemical imbalance and the time of the onset of her depression might play a role in these symptoms as well.

The investigators examined a group of one-week old newborns born to 80 women who reported they were chronically depressed before and after pregnancy, depressed only during pregnancy, depressed only after pregnancy, or not at all.

The researchers found that the newborns of the chronically depressed women had elevated levels of biochemical stress hormones associated with depression such as cortisol and norepinephrine, and lower levels of dopamine.

``The fetus is showing the same biochemical profile the mothers were showing prenatally,'' Field said. ``From a biochemical standpoint, they are mimicking their mother's profiles.''

The infants of chronically depressed women also had brain wave abnormalities that mimicked an adult with depression and were more likely to be irritable and sleep erratically.

Infants born to mothers with depression only during the pregnancy also showed signs of elevated stress hormone levels and abnormal brain wave activity, but to a lesser degree than the chronically depressed mothers.

However, even the infants born to women who reported suffering only postpartum depression still showed some signs of disrupted sleep patterns, indicating that the mother's behavior or genetic factors may still play a contributing role in the newborn's behavior.

``This suggests we need to start screening prepartum women and looking at potential interventions for them,'' Field said. However, she said, research has been mixed on whether depression medications are safe for pregnant women. ``We don't know whether the effects of depression are worse than the effects of the medication,'' she noted.


Reference Source 89

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