Skip to main content

Maternal depression can impact child mental and physical health

Maternal depression has been repeatedly linked with negative childhood outcomes, including increased psychopathology.  Now, a new study shows that depression in mothers may impact on their children's stress levels,  as well as their physical and mental well-being throughout life.

In the study, published in the journal  Depression & Anxiety,  the researchers followed 125 children from birth to 10 years.

At 10 years old, the mothers’ and children’s cortisol (CT) and secretory immunoglobulin (s-IgA)—markers of stress and the immune system (see below)—were measured, and mother-child interaction were observed.

Psychiatric assessment 

The mothers and children also had psychiatric diagnoses, and the children's externalising and internalising symptoms were reported.



Internalising disorders include depression, withdrawal, anxiety, and loneliness. They are often how we 'feel inside', such as  anger, pain, fear or hurt, but may not show it In contrast, externalising symptoms exhibit themselves in behaviour such as delinquency and aggression.  They are what we do rather than what we feel.



Immunoglobulins are used by the immune system to neutralise pathogens, such as harmful bacteria.  They are produced by specialised cells of the immune system (B cells) and come in two main types.  A soluble form is secreted by the cells (s-IgA) and can be found in the plasma.  The other kind is attached to cell membranes.  The immunoglobulins produced are continually modified to recognise and neutralise new invaders.  Thus, the presence of s-IgA is a marker of immune system function.

Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands.  The amount of cortisol is controlled by a part of the brain called the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland.   This axis (the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis) is our body's alarm system.

Usually, the alarm will switch off once the event is over, but what happens if the alarm doesn't switch off,  and  cortisol remains at persistently high levels?  Then it can lead to anxiety and depression and other pathologies.


Impact on the alarm system of the body

In the study,  the depressed mothers had higher CT and s-IgA levels, and their parenting was characterised by higher negativity, intrusion, and hostility.


HPA-axis malfunction,  and higher s-IgA evening levels were found in both the depressed mothers and their children.
Children of these depressed mothers tended to exhibit certain psychiatric disorders, had higher s-IgA levels, and displayed greater social withdrawal.

The associations between maternal depression, lower maternal sensitivity, and negative maternal care is well established with previous studies describing the adverse outcomes of such parenting, including insecure attachment and child behaviour problems.

The lead author of the study, Dr Ruth Feldman, of the Interdisciplinary Centre Herzliya in Israel, says

Following mothers and children across the first decade of life, we found that exposure to maternal depression impairs functioning of the child's immune system and stress response. Such disruptions to the child's stress and immune system, in turn, led to greater child psychopathology.  

The study also found that the impairments to the child's stress response and immunity were shaped by similar effects of the depression on the mothers' stress and immune system and their consequent impact on reducing the quality of maternal caregiving.

Our findings show the complex effects of maternal depression on children's physiology, health, and psychopathology and advocate the need for early interventions that specifically target maternal stress and enhance parenting behaviour.






Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Palm Oil production killing the planet

Bad trade and bad products are killing our planet. We have said this before on The Thin End. There is no better example than that of palm oil. It is used ubiquitously in so many products, and its production is a major factor destroying rainforests and threatening precious species.

Demand for palm oil is 'skyrocketing worldwide'. It is used in packaging and in so much of our snack foods, cookies, crackers, chocolate products, instant noodles, cereals, and doughnuts, and the list goes on.
Bad for the planet So, why is this so bad for the planet?

The oil is extracted from the fruit of the oil palms native to Africa. It is now grown primarily in Indonesia and Malaysia, but is also expanding across Central and West Africa and Latin America.

Palm oil production is now one of the world's leading causes of rainforest destruction, and this is impacting adversely some of the world's most culturally and biologically diverse ecosystems. Irreplaceable wildlife species like t…

Nicotine exposure in pregnancy linked to cot death

Nicotine exposure during pregnancy, whether from smoking cigarettes, or nicotine patches and e-cigarettes, increases risk of sudden infant death syndrome – sometimes known as “cot death” – according to new research published in The Journal of Physiology.

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden and unexpected death of an infant under 12 months of age occuring typically while sleeping. Failure of auto resuscitation, the ability to recover normal heart rate and breathing following gasping caused by lack of oxygen in the brain, has been recorded in human SIDS cases.



Smoking increases risk for SIDS Over the last decade, use of cigarettes has declined significantly, however, over 10% of pregnant women still smoke during pregnancy. Over recent years nicotine replacement therapies, such as nicotine patches or e-cigarettes, have been prescribed to women who wish to quit smoking during their pregnancy. However, nicotine replacement therapies may not protect infants from SIDS. 
With inc…