Researchers Link Maternal Depression to Shorter Children

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health recently completed a study on the possible effects of depressive symptoms in mothers on the growth of their children between preschool and elementary school, stating that the children of depressed mothers are shorter on average than their peers going into preschool and kindergarten.

In the past, there have been few studies that have examined the relationship between maternal depressive symptoms and child growth after two years of age. In the study, the scientists utilized data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Birth Cohort to examine the effects of maternal depression on children, and the results were recently published in the journal Pediatrics.

“What we found is that mothers with higher levels of depressive symptoms in the first year postpartum were more likely to have children who were shorter in stature in preschool and kindergarten age,” commented lead author Pamela Surkan, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in a Medical Xpress article.

“This study points to another reason why it’s really important for mothers to get help for depression during the postpartum period.”

According to a report by NBC News, researchers tracked 6,000 mothers and babies in the study. Nine months after giving birth, researchers surveyed the mothers about their moods during the postpartum period. They discovered that at the nine-month period, 24 percent of mothers had mild depressive symptoms and 17 percent of the mothers displayed moderate to severe symptoms.

Kids whose mothers displayed mild symptoms of postpartum depression were observed to be shorter than average, however, this trait gradually disappeared by age five. For children whose mothers suffered from moderate or severe symptoms of depression, the chances of being shorter increased from 40 percent to 50 percent during the transition from four to five years of age. The children of mothers who exhibited moderate to severe symptoms in the nine months after giving birth had a greater chance of remaining shorter than average when they reached kindergarten at around age 5.

The team of investigators still does not understand the exact biological mechanism that causes the children of depressed mothers to be shorter than their peers and are currently investigating possible causes, such as loss of hunger and insomnia.

“We think that mothers who are depressed or blue might have a hard time following through with caregiving tasks,” Surkan told NBC News. “We know that children of depressed mothers often suffer from poor attachment and the depression seems to have effects on other developmental outcomes. It makes sense that mothers who have depressive symptoms might have reduced ability to take care of infants, that they might not always pick up cues from their kids.”

Furthermore, health experts believe that the study´s findings could help doctors to understand and intervene in the potential problems that can develop for children of depressed mothers.

“I think what the study does is it quantifies this in a new and potentially important way,” explained Dr. Andrew Leuchter, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the NBC News article. “These children have growth patterns that are different from children whose mothers are not depressed.”

Based on the findings, the researchers advocated for prevention, early detection, and treatment of these symptoms in the first year after mothers have given birth.

“Because of research, we’ve learned so much more and we know the value of early identification to make sure we can identify as soon as possible,” commented Dr. Deanna Robb, the director of the parenting program at Beaumont Hospitals, in an article by ABC News.

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