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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Postnatal Depression and Infant Growth

Q. I am trying to find research which looks at the relationship between postnatal depression and infant's growth and development. There seems to be a large amount of literature documenting mother/child interaction and maternal/parental perception of temperament etc., but I can't locate any research which has focused specifically on child outcomes. I would really appreciate it if you have suggestions.

A. There is some research correlating postnatal (postpartum) depression with poor health or development of the infant. For example, one study by Locke et al (Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, March 1997, pp. 145-9) looked at the effect of maternal depression on neonatal health in premature infants, during their initial hospitalization. Maternal depression was related to the severity of the initial neonatal illness, as well as to the likelihood of lung problems and brain hemorrhage.

Another study by Beck (Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, Feb. 1998, pp. 12-20) found that postpartum depression had a small but significant effect on childrens' cognitive and emotional development. Finally, a study by Beckwith et al (Dev Psychopathol 1999 Fall;11(4):715-25) found that severe maternal depressive symptoms during pregnancy, if they did not continue to 6 months postpartum, did not appear to adversely influence either caregiving or infant functioning.

However, mothers who were depressed prenatally and continued to be depressed by 6 months postpartum had infants who earned lower Bayley MDI (Bayley Mental Developmental Index) scores than the offspring of women without severe psychological symptoms or women whose depression had lifted. I'm not aware of studies that have looked at long-term child outcomes (2-4 years later).

March 2001

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