Postpartum depression may lead to shorter kids: study

September 10, 2012 by Jenifer Goodwin, Healthday Reporter
Postpartum depression may lead to shorter kids: study
It's not certain why, but feeding practices might play a part, expert says.

(HealthDay)—Children of mothers who suffer from persistent postpartum depression are more likely to be very short at ages 4 and 5, new research finds.

Researchers examined data on 10,700 from the nationally representative U.S. Early Childhood Longitudinal Study . The children were born in 2001 and followed through 2007.

Children of mothers who were depressed during the first nine months of the child's life were 40 percent more likely to be at or below the 10th percentile for height at age 4, and 48 percent more likely to be at or below the 10th percentile for height at age 5 than children of mothers without depression.

Percentile compares how children measure up to other children the same age. Being in the 10th percentile means that the child is shorter than 90 percent of his or her peers.

"What we found is that mothers with higher levels of in the first year postpartum were more likely to have children who were shorter in stature in preschool and kindergarten age," said lead study author Pamela Surkan, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in Baltimore. "This study points to another reason why it's really important for mothers to get help for depression during the ."

The study is published online Sept. 10 and in the October print issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Experts aren't sure why maternal depression is associated with shorter children, but feeding practices and nutrition likely play a role, said Dr. Michelle Terry, an attending physician at Seattle Children's Hospital and clinical associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

One symptom of depression can be loss of appetite. "If I'm not hungry, I might not be that interested in what anybody else is eating, including the baby," Terry said.

also may have insomnia, which could throw off a baby's sleep and feeding schedule. Feeding a baby is also a social interaction, Terry added. "If the mother has mood swings or is ambivalent, the baby may not look forward to eating as a social interaction time," she said.

"What is comes down to is a kind of neglect," she added.

According to the study, maternal depression also can cause children to feel stressed. Chronically high levels of the stress hormone cortisol are associated with lower levels of the growth hormone in children.

Although researchers found an association between maternal depressive symptoms and shorter children, they did not prove that the mother's depression caused the children to be shorter.

Nor did researchers find an association between depression in mothers and skinnier kids—that is, the children of depressed weren't more likely to be underweight for their height or age.

And, researchers noted, being in the 10th percentile for height isn't necessarily a bad thing. If children have short parents, the kids are likely to be short too.

"If you are small because your parents are small, and genetically you were supposed to be in the 10th percentile, that's fine," Surkan said. "But if the reason you're in the 10th percentile is because you lacked nutrition or because you had a number of illnesses over the course of your early childhood that weren't treated properly, that is a problem."

Stunted growth (usually defined as the 5th percentile or less for height) is associated with higher risk of some diseases and death in childhood and even in the long term, Surkan said.

Previous research also has shown that can lead to poorer development, including decreased growth, in the first two years of life, according to background information in the study.

Explore further: Depression in teenage years linked to maternal postnatal depression

More information: Washington's Department of Early Learning has more on postpartum depression.

Related Stories

Depression in teenage years linked to maternal postnatal depression

June 10, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Research by the University of Reading shows that children of postnatally depressed mothers are more likely to suffer from depression themselves than those of non-depressed mothers.

Postnatal depression linked to depression in offspring until age 16

June 16, 2011
Fortunately, postnatal depression often resolves itself in the weeks following childbirth. But for mothers with more profound or prolonged postnatal depression the risk of subsequent development of depression in their children ...

Recommended for you

Higher blood sugar in early pregnancy raises baby's heart-defect risk

December 15, 2017
Higher blood sugar early in pregnancy raises the baby's risk of a congenital heart defect, even among mothers who do not have diabetes, according to a study led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Injuries from window blinds send two children to the emergency department every day

December 11, 2017
Most homes have them. They help keep our rooms warm or cold and even add a pop of color to tie the décor together. But window blinds can cause serious injuries or even death to young children. A new study from the Center ...

Blood flow altered in brains of preterm newborns vs. full-term infants

December 4, 2017
Cerebral blood flow (CBF) of key regions of newborns' brains is altered in very premature infants and may provide an early warning sign of disturbed brain maturation well before such injury is visible on conventional imaging, ...

HPV vaccine is effective, safe 10 years after it's given

November 29, 2017
A decade of data on hundreds of boys and girls who received the HPV vaccine indicates the vaccine is safe and effective long term in protecting against the most virulent strains of the virus, researchers report.

Antibiotics administered during labor delay healthy gut bacteria in babies

November 28, 2017
Antibiotics administered during labour for Group B Streptococcus (GBS) affect the development of gut bacteria in babies, according to a study from McMaster University.

Stress in pregnancy linked to changes in infant's nervous system, less smiling, less resilience

November 23, 2017
Maternal stress during the second trimester of pregnancy may influence the nervous system of the developing child, both before and after birth, and may have subtle effects on temperament, resulting in less smiling and engagement, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.