Women who experience depression early in their pregnancy have twice the risk of going into preterm labor, the leading cause of infant mortality, according to a study in the journal Human Reproduction.
An estimated 10-20 percent of women are affected by some symptoms of depression during pregnancy, and a quarter to half of them will suffer from severe depression.
Depression is a mood disorder that affects 1 in 4 women at some point during their lifetime, so it is not entirely surprising that this illness would also touch women while pregnant.
Researchers found that among 791 pregnant women included in the study, those who suffered from severe depression on or about their tenth week of pregnancy were twice as likely as non-depressed moms to go into preterm labor.
Moreover, early-pregnancy depression directly affected the risk of preterm delivery, which is supportive of a direct association between the two.
A premature birth is within the first 37 weeks of pregnancy, while a full-term pregnancy is typically around 40 weeks or so.
The take home message is - women who report being depressed during pregnancy should be evaluated and not dismissed as “something normal,” says Dr. De-Kun Li, MD, PhD, an epidemiologist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research.
“They should discuss it with their doctor and family members as soon as possible,” Li says.
Dr. Li notes that while post partum depression is a well-known illness, depression during pregnancy, until now, has received little consideration. But, based on a standard screening process 41 percent of the women in the study had moderate to severe depression symptoms.
“As we have learned more about postpartum depression, we have discovered that half of the cases started in pregnancy,” said Dr. Shari I. Lusskin, director of reproductive psychiatry at New York University Medical Center.
Among those women who did not have significant depression at the onset of the study, 4 percent delivered preterm - compared to 6 percent of women with moderate depression and 9 percent with severe symptoms.
Even after researchers accounted for other factors including age, race and smoking habits - moderate depression still greatly increased the likelihood of preterm delivery by 60 percent, while severe depression more than doubled the chances.
Researchers are hopeful that the findings will make antenatal depression as widely recognized as postpartum depression. More studies are needed in the future to show that treating prenatal depression does indeed lower the risk of preterm delivery.
The findings were published online Oct. 23 in the journal Human Reproduction. #