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Postnatal Depression Linked to Depression in Offspring Following Childbirth

A study recently performed by Lynne Murray and her colleagues was published in the May 2011 issue of JAACAP, the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and found that maternal depression and the chances of your child developing it may begin in infancy. Fortunately, following childbirth the depression a mother experiences is usually postpartum and disappears in a few weeks. However, for mothers who experience more intense or extended postnatal depression, the risk increases for their children to subsequently develop depression also.

Dr. Murray and her team studied 100 moms ranging from 18 up to 42 years old. 58 of them had postpartum depression, with some developing postpartum depression at 2 months after childbirth. They also studied non-depressed mothers and evaluated both mother and child from 18 months through age 16. The team discovered that the children of mothers who were depressed postpartum were at a much higher risk of developing depression and that increased by more than 40% in their children by age 16. The average age for children to begin to develop depression was usually by age 14.

In a recent Science Daily article, research was highlighted that showed many years before the depression surfaced there was an impairment with the child’s attachment to the mother in the infancy stage. The children experienced such things as lower self-esteem as they grew older and if there was any sort of a marital aspect in the family dynamic, it further depressed the mother. That was key in the child’s chances of developing depression that could last a lifetime.

In a related story in the same issue of the Journal, Dr. David Reiss, found that Murray’s team "emphasized the impact of maternal depression on the marital process and how important this process is in the evolution of the child’s depression." The researchers deduced that the importance of screening new mothers for postnatal depression is imperative in order to set in place those early interventions that could help their children.

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