News items Depressive symptoms during pregnancy affect baby

16 September 2021

Depression or depressive symptoms during pregnancy may lead to a bad start for the infant, such as a preterm birth. Researchers of Radboud university medical center found that this was true for both women who were treated with antidepressants and those who received no medication. The researchers conducted a large meta-analysis in which they examined individual-level participant data of 400,000 women internationally.

About ten percent of women experience depression or depressive symptoms during pregnancy. Epidemiologist Marleen van Gelder of Radboud university medical center: "We noticed a lot of attention in the society for postpartum depression, so when the baby is born. Feelings of depression during pregnancy are less visible, but our study shows that a significant group of women suffers from it and that this can have consequences for the baby."

For this study, data from over 400,000 participants from 27 different studies were pooled and analyzed to gain more insight into the association between depressive symptoms during pregnancy, antidepressant use, and the risk of a number of common negative health outcomes for the baby: preterm birth, low birth weight (less than 2,500 grams), small-for-gestational age, and a low Apgar score (a test that measures the health of the baby immediately after birth).

It appears that women with (symptoms of) depression have an increased risk of preterm birth and a baby with a low Apgar score, even when no antidepressants were used. The use of certain antidepressants gave even a slightly higher risk. No increased risks of having a child with a low birth weight or small-for-gestational age were observed, neither in the group of women who did not use or did use antidepressants.

Marleen van Gelder: "Based on these results, we conclude that depression during pregnancy should not be left untreated, since most of the increased risks were also seen among women with depression who did not use antidepressants. This information can help health care providers and pregnant women in making the decision whether the positive effects of treatment outweigh the potential risks to the unborn child."

About the study in Obstetrics & Gynecology

Associations Between Maternal Depression, Antidepressant Use During Pregnancy, and Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes: An Individual Participant Data Meta-analysis - Richelle Vlenterie, Marleen M. H. J. van Gelder, [...], Judith B. Prins, Monica Pop-Purceleanu, and Nel Roeleveld.

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