Women with depression symptoms early in pregnancy may be at heightened risk of delivering prematurely, a recent study suggests.
Researchers found that among 791 pregnant women they followed, those who were suffering from significant depression symptoms around the 10th week of pregnancy were twice as likely as non-depressed women to give birth too early.
What is more, the risk of preterm delivery rose in tandem with the severity of early-pregnancy depression — supporting a direct relationship between the two.
The findings suggest that depression itself may contribute to premature delivery. Most women in the study were not on antidepressant drugs, indicating that medication side effects are not an explanation.
The bottom line for women is that depression during pregnancy should not be dismissed as something normal, according to lead researcher Dr De-Kun Li, an epidemiologist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, California.
“They should bring it to the attention of their family members and their doctors,” Li told.
The findings, according to Li, shine a spotlight on the potential consequences of prenatal depression. While postpartum depression is a well-recognised problem, he noted, depression during pregnancy has received little attention.
That is despite the fact that prenatal depression appears to be common; 41 percent of the women in the current study had moderate to severe depression symptoms, based on a standard screening questionnaire.
Among women without significant depression symptoms at the study’s start, 4 percent delivered prematurely — before the 37th week of pregnancy. That compared with nearly 6 percent of women with moderate depression, and just over 9 percent of those with severe symptoms.
Even when the researchers weighed other factors — such as the women’s age, race and smoking habits — moderate depression raised the risk of preterm delivery by 60 percent, while severe depression doubled the odds.
Other research, Li said, has pointed to possible reasons that depression could directly affect preterm-birth risk. Depression may influence placental hormones and disrupt the normal functioning of the placenta, which is crucial to a healthy pregnancy.
Li said he hopes the current findings will help lead to routine depression screening, as part of the “prenatal care package.” Further studies are still needed, however, to show that treating prenatal depression lowers the risk of preterm birth.
Source: Human Reproduction
Source: The Daily Star, October 25, 2008