The mental state of a pregnant woman greatly impacts the physical and future mental health of her fetus. However, a soon-to-be mother’s mental health is often unintentionally put in jeopardy when medical professionals recommend going off antidepressants cold turkey or dismiss symptoms of antenatal anxiety as normal hormonal fluctuations. Research suggests that a woman’s mental health during pregnancy might be as important as her physical health when it comes to fetal development, weight at birth and the child’s mental health later in life.
Healthy fetal development is at risk when a pregnant woman is struggling with mental health issues. A 2009 meta-analysis entitled “Impact of Maternal Stress, Depression and Anxiety on Fetal Neurobehavioral Development” reports that “…fetal activity, sleep pattern and movement have been shown to be influenced by maternal psychological states, suggesting that maternal mood may also affect central nervous system development.” These effects can continue to stunt the baby’s development post-birth.
According to a 2010 study led by Nancy K. Grote, Ph.D., of the University of Washington, Seattle, there are many factors that determine the effect that a mother’s mental health has on her fetus. The study states, “Women with depression are at increased risk for [preterm birth] and [low birth weight], although the magnitude of the effect varies as a function of depression measurement, country location and U.S. socioeconomic status.” A 2007 article by psychologists at the University of Manchester examined data in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and concluded that the adverse effects of antenatal depression on a fetus are prevalent in developing countries. Regardless of a mother’s geographic location and socioeconomic status, premature birth and low weight at time of birth are both “leading causes of neonatal, infant and childhood morbidity, mortality and neurodevelopmental impairments and disabilities nationwide.”
It has been known that mental health issues in the mother can contribute to low birth weight, potentially increasing the risk of medical complications, but only recently have researchers determined the link between an individual’s low weight at birth and the development of mental health issues later in life. A 2010 study by Kathryn Abel, Ph.D., and her team at the Centre for Women’s Mental Health at University of Manchester found that babies who were small relative to other fetuses during any gestational period, including at birth, had a larger risk of developing mental health disorders in adolescence or adulthood. This applied to many mental health disorders, including schizophrenia. In fact, those born 5.5 pounds or less were 1.63 times more likely than other individuals to develop schizophrenia later in life.
Though recent studies suggest that a mother’s mental health during pregnancy greatly impacts the development of the fetus, there are many causes of mental illness. If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues, help is available. Sovereign Health Group specializes in treating individuals struggling with mental health disorders, substance abuse issues and dual diagnosis. Call (866) 819-0427 to speak with a professional today.
Pregnancy and mental health: How hormonal changes affect mental health (Part 4 of 4)
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer