Poor Mental Health of Mother Can Harm Childhood Development

If the mother has anxiety and depression at the time of conception through the first year of the baby’s life, it is likely to result in negative developmental outcomes for the baby. These findings were published in the Journal of American Medical Association (Pediatrics).

Why this is so significant? Because this means that this can affect thousands of women and children in the world. According to data, nearly 15% to 23% of women worldwide experience anxiety during pregnancy, while 15% deal with anxiety after childbirth. Else than this 15 percent women suffer from postpartum depression and 10 percent have depression during pregnancy. Women who are poor or are teen mothers have it even worse.

Studies have shown that for a child, the time since the beginning of conception, pregnancy, birth, and first year of their life is extremely important. Changes and exposures during these periods directly affect their development. One of these exposures is the mental health of the mother.

A woman suffering from anxiety and depression can directly affect the child’s language, cognition, and even motor development. Mother’s mental health can cause these children to internalize their negative feelings or target them towards others. Children suffering from this conundrum, often react with more negative emotions and have difficult temperaments through their adolescence.

Source: Integris

Previously, the relationship between a woman’s mental health during this time and her child’s development have been extensively studied but the long-term effects of depression and anxiety at different stages of motherhood on a range of developmental functions from infancy through adolescence, have not been examined.

The researchers in the new study, studied the association of a mother’s depression and anxiety with social-emotional, cognitive, language, motor and adaptive behavior development in children from infancy up to age eighteen. They also tried to evaluate if the timing of depression and anxiety, type of mental illness and age of the children affected the findings.

Source: York Region Psychological Services

For this purpose, 195751 healthy mother-child pairs from 191 studies based in the United Kingdom, the United States, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada and Norway were included in the study. The symptoms of the mother’s mental health were either diagnosed and self-reported whereas the children’s development was also self-reported.

They found that depression and anxiety in the perinatal (from conception to first year of life) period had small-to-moderate associations with deficits in social-emotional behavior development through adolescence, such as peer problems, a lack of prosocial behaviors and attachment and emotional dysregulation.

As to why a mother’s mental health might influence her offspring’s development, the researchers suggest that it might be dependent on what happens to the baby while in the womb and interactions after birth.Anxiety and depression during pregnancy could expose the fetus to increased concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol, leading to changes in brain function and reducing the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients.

Source: Mommy Practicality

The study also explains that the neurocognitive changes that prepare mothers to be able to sensitively respond to their infants could also be hampered by experiencing depression and anxiety during pregnancy. If a mother is depressed, she might not be able to respond to the cues given by the baby. This could mean that the mother and child may not be able to bond as well as they should.

The authors lacked details about individual, family and social factors that could have affected the mothers’ mental health and their children’s development, said the study’s senior author Delyse Hutchinson, an associate professor in the school of psychology at the Centre for Early Social and Emotional Development at Deakin University in Australia.

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