Pregnancy Depression Impacts Stress Hormones of Babies

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2010-12-14 12:17

Depression during pregnancy has many health implications, including a new effect seen in babies born to depressed mothers. Research from the University of Michigan School of Medicine has found that these babies have higher levels of stress hormones, decreased muscle tone, and other neurological and behavioral differences.

Pregnancy and Postpartum Depression Has Many Health Effects on Children

Lead investigator Dr. Delia M. Vazquez, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics, and colleagues studied 154 pregnant women over the age of 20 who had depressive symptoms assessed at 28, 32, and 37 weeks of pregnancy and again after they gave birth. Blood samples were taken from the umbilical cord to measure stress hormone levels. The infants then underwent neurobehavioral tests at two weeks to assess motor skills and response to stimuli and stress.

The tests were used to measure the development of the infants’ neuroendocrine system, which controls the body’s stress response, as well as mood and emotions.

Read: Premature Birth Risk Higher in Depressed Pregnant Women

From the umbilical cord samples, the researchers found that the babies born to depressed mothers had elevated levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which controls the adrenal gland’s production of the stress hormone cortisol. The researchers do note that elevated cortisol could also be attributed to the high level stress associated with birth.

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