Depression Types How Maternal Depression Affects Children By Margaret Seide, MD Margaret Seide, MD LinkedIn Margaret Seide, MS, MD, is a board-certified psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of depression, addiction, and eating disorders. Learn about our editorial process Updated on May 28, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Steven Gans, MD Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Massimiliano Finzi / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Effects of Prenatal Depression and Prenatal Stress How Prenatal Depression Effects the Child After Birth How Postpartum Depression Affects Parenting Major depression can be a significant burden on the life of an individual. It can also impact the life of those around them and those who are dependent on them. Children are particularly vulnerable when their mothers are struggling with depression. This article focuses on the potential effects on the physical and emotional well being of a child when a depressive episode and extreme stress is experienced by an expectant or new mother, the prenatal period and postpartum period, respectively. Of course, these are inherently complicated stages in a pregnant person's life, but the significant hormone fluctuations associated with these periods may also contribute to increased susceptibility to mood disorders during these times. This article discusses the effects of prenatal depression on fetuses and covers how postpartum depression affects parenting. Get Advice From the Verywell Mind Podcast Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares an exercise that can help you feel better when you feel depressed. Follow Now: Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts Effects of Prenatal Depression and Prenatal Stress When an episode of depression occurs during pregnancy, this is known as prenatal depression. This condition presents some specific risks to the unborn child. Living in high stress situations are also known to have negative consequences to the fetus. Premature Birth and Low Birth Weight Prenatal depression is associated with both premature birth and low birth weight. Of note, it is possible for a baby to be born at less than a healthy weight, even when born at full term. Premature births and low birth weight are two of the most common causes of neuro-cognitive deficits and developmental milestone delays in children. Prenatal depression also increases the likelihood of pre-eclampsia, which is a condition characterized by dangerously high blood pressure in the third trimester. While some studies looked at the illness of depression during pregnancy, some assessed the relationship between prenatal stress and fetal health. Experiencing external stressors while pregnant, such as an abusive relationship or socioeconomic deprivation, is shown to potentially be harmful to the unborn child. Prenatal stress can compromise uterine blood supply, which is the source of nutrients to the unborn child. This can potentially lead to restricted growth of a developing fetus. Substance Use During Pregnancy The indirect way in which maternal stress effects the fetus is that it can alter behavior during pregnancy. An expectant mother facing emotional hardship may turn to drugs, alcohol, or tobacco as a coping mechanism. This introduces the risks associated with fetal exposure to those substances. Overly stressed pregnant women are also shown to be less likely to seek out prenatal care and are less likely to engage in appropriate health behaviors, such as getting enough sleep and eating a nutritious diet. How Prenatal Depression Effects the Child After Birth Depression experienced during the prenatal period can go on to effect that exposed fetus well after they are born, into childhood. Prenatal depression can impair future socio-emotional development of the child. This term describes a young person's ability to be socially competent and emotionally intelligent. These are the building blocks of what we associate with psychological stability and good behavior in an academic setting. For mothers experiencing depression during pregnancy, the odds of having children with behavioral difficulties were 1.5 to almost 2 times greater than for mothers not experiencing prenatal depression. Can Babies Become Depressed? How Postpartum Depression Affects Parenting Depression experienced by a mother just after birth is referred to as postpartum depression and affects approximately 10% to 15% of new mothers. Postpartum depression can hinder a new mom's ability to emotionally bond to her newborn. The quality of the mother-infant relationship is known to be a key determinant of a child's future mental health and neurological development. In one study, infants of mothers experiencing postpartum depression were twice as likely to have difficulty bonding with others during childhood than were infants of non-depressed mothers. Maternal emotional unavailability and decreased responsiveness to their child’s needs can also be the fallout of postpartum depression. Postpartum depression also increases the likelihood of a mother having a harsh parenting style. How Different Styles of Parenting Impact Children A Word From Verywell Unfortunately, the societal expectation of being cheerful during pregnancy or early motherhood can stigmatize treatment seeking for mental health issues such as depression. However, the data presented in this article should be a encouragement for discussing treatment options with your doctor if you are living with stress or think you may have depression during or just after pregnancy. How Long Does Postpartum Depression Last? 3 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Slavich GM, Sacher J. Stress, sex hormones, inflammation, and major depressive disorder: Extending Social Signal Transduction Theory of Depression to account for sex differences in mood disorders. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2019;236(10):3063-3079. doi:10.1007/s00213-019-05326-9 Madigan S, Oatley H, Racine N, et al. A meta-analysis of maternal prenatal depression and anxiety on child socioemotional development. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2018;57(9):645-657.e8. doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2018.06.012 Brummelte S, Galea LA. Postpartum depression: Etiology, treatment and consequences for maternal care. Horm Behav. 2016;77:153-166. doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2015.08.008 By Margaret Seide, MD Margaret Seide, MS, MD, is a board-certified psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of depression, addiction, and eating disorders. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? 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