Life Health

Pregnant, post-partum moms' depression impacts babies' brains, U of C study suggests

By Bill Kaufmann, Calgary Sun

Catherine Lebel, an assistant professor in the Department of Radiology, received a grant to explore how the brain develops for a toddler learning how to acquire reading and writing skills.  Postmedia Calgary
Photo by Riley Brandt

Catherine Lebel, an assistant professor in the Department of Radiology, received a grant to explore how the brain develops for a toddler learning how to acquire reading and writing skills. Postmedia Calgary Photo by Riley Brandt

Mothers' depression during and after pregnancy appears to affect the mental health of their offspring, says a University of Calgary scientist.

That impact could mean mental illness, social dsyfunction and learning disabilities for those children, said Dr. Catherine Lebel.

And with 18% of pregnant moms suffering depression, the problem is potentially widespread, she said.

"In the medical community, there's a lot of awareness of depression but not much about prenatal depression and it's quite common," said radiologist Lebel.

U of C researchers used MRI scans to compare the brains of younger children and found those from more severely depressive mothers showed greater abnormalities.

The brains in question tend have developed prematurely, resulting in less flexibility and ability to adapt, said Lebel.

While other studies have shown possible links between pregnant, depressive mothers to their offsprings' mental health, the U of C study involving 52 mother-child pairs delved for the first time into younger children and post-partum impacts, she said.

The children in the study were aged two to five years.

"These kids' brains looked like they were more developed," she said.

"We can't say for sure that it's causal but we can speculate from what we know."

What may transfer those impacts, she said, are mothers' stress that affect hormonal imbalances and nutritional practises disrupted by moms' pre and post-natal condition.

How post partum-depressed women, who make up 13% of moms, care for their children might also have an effect, said the scientist.

It points up the need for better screening and treatment of depression among moms, particularly before birth, said Lebel, who also spoke of her own experience as a mother of three.

"There was a lot of screening done post-partum but it wasn't really there during my pregnancy," she said.

"It's important to take your symptoms seriously."

Lebel said her research into the area is continuing.

BKaufmann@postmedia.com

on Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn