Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Infant Exposure to Maternal Depression Affects Later Brain Development, Study Shows

Exposure to maternal depression during the first months of life may have a lasting negative impact on brain development, suggests a study published Monday in AJP in Advance.

“These findings suggest that the perinatal period, particularly the postnatal period, may be critical for prevention of maternal depressive symptoms in view of the long-term association with child brain development,” wrote Runyu Zou, B.Med., M.P.H., of Erasmus Medical College, the Netherlands, and colleagues.

The study included a total of 3,469 mother-child pairs who participated in the Generation R Study, a Dutch population-based study. Zou and colleagues measured maternal depression using the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI), a validated self-report questionnaire, at four periods—during pregnancy (approximately 20 weeks' gestation), postpartum (child age 2 months), early childhood (age 3 years), and preadolescence (age 10 years).

The researchers measured the children’s brain development at age 10 using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); emotional and behavioral problems also were measured at age 10 using the Brief Problem Monitor.

Higher maternal depressive symptom scores at all four time points were associated with smaller total gray matter volume in children at age 10. However, after adjusting for possible confounding factors, only exposure to maternal depressive symptoms when the child was 2 months old remained significant. Specifically, a one-point increase on the BSI depressive symptom scale corresponded to a 7.29-cm3 reduction in total gray matter. Children exposed to the highest BSI score had a nearly 30-cm3 reduction in gray matter.

The researchers suggested that reduced gray matter at age 10 years may explain the previously reported association between perinatal maternal depression and later child attention problems.

“Maternal depressive symptoms in the perinatal period, in particular the postnatal period, are more likely to affect offspring brain development, which suggests a critical period of sensitivity,” the researchers concluded. “Furthermore, our study suggests that gray matter volume may be involved in the neurobiological mechanism underlying the association of maternal depression with child attention problems, which has rarely been reported, highlighting the possibility that interventions reducing maternal depression may have lasting effects on child development.”

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Postpartum Anxiety, Depression Raise Risk of Developmental Delays.”

(Image: iStock/kieferpix)


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