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Maternal Depression Tied to Offspring Stress

Depression in pregnancy linked to neurological and behavioral differences in infants

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 15 (HealthDay News) -- An elevated level of depressive symptoms among women during pregnancy appears to be associated with higher levels of stress hormones among offspring at birth, as well as other neurological and behavioral differences in offspring, according to a study published online Oct. 29 in Infant Behavior and Development.

Sheila Marcus, M.D., of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and colleagues monitored pregnant women for depressive symptoms using the Beck Depression Inventory at 28, 32, and 37 weeks of gestation and at delivery.

In examining the infant neuroendocrine system, the investigators found elevated adrenocorticotrophic hormone levels at birth among infants born to mothers with high or increasing depression levels. Compared to children born to women without high or increasing depression levels during pregnancy, the investigators found that these children had decreased muscle tone at 2 weeks of age. These infants were more hypotonic and habituated to auditory and visual stimuli.

"When compared to non-depressed women, maternal depressive symptoms, even in the absence of major depressive disorder, appeared to facilitate a different developmental pathway for the infant limbic-hypothalamic-pituitary axis and early neurological development," the authors write.

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