Are postpartum depression and childhood growth linked?

September 20, 2012

A longitudinal study of more than 10,000 children born in the United States suggests that maternal depressive symptoms are connected to growth patterns in preschool- and school-aged children. The research, by investigators from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, underscores the importance of prevention, early detection, and treatment of depression in the first year postpartum.

A longitudinal study of more than 10,000 children born in the United States suggests that maternal depressive symptoms are connected to growth patterns in preschool-  and school-aged children. The research, by investigators from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, underscores the importance of prevention, early detection, and treatment of depression in the first year postpartum.

Published in Pediatrics, the study of the relationship between maternal depression at 9 months postpartum and child growth outcomes incorporated data from the US Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (ECLS-B) into multivariate logistic regression models. Growth outcomes assessed were ≤10% height-for-age, ≤10% weight-for-height, and ≤10% weight-for-age at 4 and 5 years. Data from three ECLS-B time points were used-9 months, 4 years, and 5 to 6 years-and the focus was on growth data at ages 4 and/or 5 years from 6,550 singletons whose mothers had depression at 9 months.

Overall at 9 months, 59.1% of mothers had no depressive symptoms, 23.6% had mild symptoms, and moderate to severe symptoms were seen in 17.3% of mothers. At age 4, odds were significantly higher that the children of the mothers with moderate to severe depression would be ≤10% height-for-age (odds ratio [OR] 1.40, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.04-1.89) than those with mothers who had few or no depressive symptoms. At age 5, the relationship held true, with an OR 1.48, 95% CI: 1.03-2.13. At ages 4 and 5 years, the associations between maternal depressive symptoms and both height-for-weight and weight-for-age ≤10% were not statistically significant.

The researchers believe that theirs is the first study from a developed country of the impact of postpartum depression on children older than age 3 years. It is limited, however, by nonresponse bias because mothers who were lost to follow up may have been at higher risk of depression.

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