Persistent and Severe Postnatal Depression Increase Children's Risk of Development Issues

AUGUST 14, 2018
Christine Potkul
The results of a recent study show that persistent postnatal depression (PND) lasting 6 months or longer can have severe implications on child development.

The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, included 9848 women whose average age was 28.5 years at delivery, and 8287 children comprising 4227 boys and 4060 girls. Data were collected throughout different periods of the childrens’ development, from preschool to late adolescence, using the self-rated Edinburg Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS). PND was identified as persistent when the EPDS score was higher than the 3 threshold levels—moderate, marked, or severe—at both 2 and 8 months after childbirth.

The findings concluded that PND lasting 6 months or greater, compared with episodes that did not persist, may have negative effects on a child’s development. Persistent and severe depression increase the risk for behavioral problems at 3.5 years of age, achieving lower mathematics grades at 16 years of age, and developing depression at 18 years of age. Patients at risk of maternal depression require treatment to protect their mental health and their children’s development.

“We know postnatal depression is commonly affecting approximately 1 in 10 women,” said study authors Elena Netsi BSc, MSc, DPhil, and Alan Stein, FRCPsych, in a statement. “Our study highlights that screening both early and late in the postnatal year can help identify women whose depression persists. This should alert health care professionals to women whose depression may become chronic, and such women should be prioritized for treatment.”