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Children of Depressed Mothers More Likely Diagnosed with Mental Disorders; Risk Mitigated by Oxytocin

December 8, 2011

WAIKOLOA, Hawaii, Dec 8, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Research studying the impact of postpartum depression on children’s social and emotional development found that Oxytocin, a hormone associated with love and produced naturally, can help protect children from the negative effects of maternal depression. The study, presented at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology annual meeting, shows children born to depressed mothers are at greater risk of mental disorders, but this risk can be lessened depending on genetic factors related to Oxytocin functioning.

Ruth Feldman, PhD, Professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, found children exposed to maternal depression throughout their first year had a higher risk of mental disorders by age six. Sixty percent of children born to mothers who were consistently depressed across the first year of the children’s lives exhibited mental disorders. This group of children, similar to their mothers, also showed disordered functioning of the Oxytocin system, demonstrated by both lower levels of Oxytocin in their saliva and a high risk variant on the Oxytocin receptor.

In comparison, 15% of children born to mothers with no mental disorder were diagnosed with a mental disorder by age six.

Researchers studied the mental health status, Oxytocin levels, genetic variation in Oxytocin receptors and interactions in 155 mother-child pairs during an at-home visit when the child was six-years old. The mothers were surveyed for mental health symptoms at the birth of their child, at six and nine months after birth. The 155 pairs were initially observed and diagnosed with any mental disorders at a nine month home visit.

Of the pairs participating at the six-year old home visit 30% of mothers were diagnosed with depression and had demonstrated symptoms of depression throughout the child’s first year of life. On average, these mothers had disordered Oxytocin functioning and produced less peripheral Oxytocin in their saliva. Among these mothers there was a greater prevalence of the risky variant of the Oxytocin receptor gene.

While most children born to depressed mothers exhibited mental disorders, 40% demonstrated more normal functioning of the Oxytocin system, no signs of mental illness, better social engagements and empathic behaviors.

“We found Oxytocin system functioning helps safeguard some children against the effects of chronic maternal depression,” said Feldman.

SOURCE American College of Neuropsychopharmacology


Source: PR Newswire