Premature Birth Risk Higher for Depressed Pregnant Women


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Oct 4 2010 - 7:34pm

Women who are depressed during pregnancy have a higher chance of premature births according to findings from scientists at University of Washington (UW). The study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, also show that women who suffer from depression, combined with lower socioeconomic status are at even higher risk of delivering early or having an infant with low birth weight.

The findings are important for public health. Women commonly feel depressed during pregnancy. Infants born prematurely are at risk for respiratory and neurological problems in addition to chronic health problems that put them at risk for early mortality from disabilities.

"In the United States, the likelihood of experiencing premature birth is even greater for depressed pregnant women living in poverty than for depressed pregnant women from middle- to high-socioeconomic backgrounds," explains lead study author Dr. Nancy Grote, research associate professor of social work at UW. Additionally, "Poor women in America are twice as likely to experience depression, compared to other women in this country."

The statistical analysis was performed by Dr. Jeffrey Bridge of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital and Department of Pediatrics of The Ohio State University that was a combined effort of UW, The Ohio State University, and the University of Pittsburgh. The multidisciplinary team included social work, psychiatry, statistics, obstetrics, and pediatrics. Included were United States and non-United States studies in the research, conducted rigorously to clarify inconsistencies found in past studies linking depression to preterm birth and low birth weight

Depression During Pregnancy has Lasting Effects

The research confirmed the link, but in addition to premature birth the scientist say depression during pregnancy can have lasting effects on mother and child. "Maternal depression affects the fetus, the newborn, the child and the adolescent," Grote said. "There are pernicious effects both before and after birth."

In addition to newborn health problems Grote says, "Maternal postpartum depression, in turn, has been found to interfere with mother-infant bonding and attachment. Insecure attachment to the mother is associated with a host of emotional, behavioral, and cognitive problems for the child. It can foster difficulties in the baby's emotional and social development, school and learning problems as the child grows, and adolescent mental health concerns."


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The findings suggest women should be carefully screened during pregnancy for depression. From the perspective of health care reform, Grote says it is well worth the investment to maintain supportive social service staff whose positions are often eliminated by States during an economic downturn. An emphasis on screening women for depression, especially the socioeconomically disadvantaged, would offset the cost of neonatal intensive care, maternal education and the expense of ongoing medical care for infants born prematurely with chronic health problems.

Grote also discusses the role of anti-depressants during pregnancy that are often stopped, leaving women untreated. She says, "Many news reports exaggerate the perils of taking anti-depressant medication during pregnancy. They seldom mention that untreated depression during pregnancy has negative birth outcomes comparable to anti-depressant medication use...


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