Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Maternal Depression Impairs Immune System, Stress Response of Children, Study Suggests

Numerous studies have shown that maternal depression can create significant challenges for children, including social and behavior problems as they age. A study published Tuesday in Depression and Anxiety suggests maternal depression may also impair a child’s immune system and stress response.

“[W]hile most research has focused on the negative effects of maternal depression during pregnancy or the first months of life on children's physiology and behavior, our findings show that exposure to maternal depression at any timepoint in childhood bears negative consequences for children's immunity and emotional well-being,” wrote senior author Ruth Feldman, Ph.D., of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel and Yale University and colleagues.

The researchers followed 125 children from birth to 10 years. At the beginning of the study, the mothers received screening for depression and anxiety; depression assessments were repeated at six and nine months, and again six years later. At 10 years, the researchers collected cortisol and secretory immunoglobulin (s-IgA)—markers of stress and the immune system—from the mother-children pairs and observed interactions between the mothers and children; the mothers and children were also evaluated for psychiatric disorders, and mothers were asked to assess their child’s behavior using the Child Behavior Checklist 4-16 years. The maternal depression group was defined as mothers receiving a diagnosis of major depressive disorder at 6 years, 10 years, or both (42.8%).

Depressed mothers had higher cortisol and s-IgA levels and displayed greater negativity, intrusion, and hostility toward their children compared with mothers without depression, the researchers found. Children of depressed mothers had higher s-IgA levels, exhibited greater social withdrawal during interaction with their mothers, and displayed more externalizing and internalizing symptoms compared with children of mothers without depression.

“Using structural equation modeling, we found that stress and immune biomarkers jointly mediated the effects of maternal depression on child symptoms via four independent paths: by augmenting maternal and child's CT [cortisol] production, by increasing s-IgA levels, by impairing maternal and child relational behavior, and via a mixed hormonal-immune pathway by which maternal s-IgA impacts child CT levels,” the researchers wrote.

“Our findings show the complex effects of maternal depression on children's physiology, health, and psychopathology and advocate the need for early interventions that specifically target maternal stress and enhance parenting behavior,” Feldman stated in a press release.

For related information, see the American Journal of Psychiatry article “Perinatal Maternal Depressive Symptoms as an Issue for Population Health,” by Michael Meany, Ph.D.

(Image: iStock/Sasiistock)


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