Drugs, Pregnancy & Lactation

Fetal exposure to depression: How does ‘dose’ figure in?


We’ve known for a long time that a history of depression predicts increased risk for postpartum depression. In this particular study, it was actually shown that not just a history of depression, but the duration of experienced depression influenced the risk for postpartum depression.

For example, compared with women with no depression, women who were depressed before but not during their pregnancy had an aOR of 7.67, women depressed during pregnancy but not before had an aOR of 17.65, and women depressed both before and during pregnancy had an aOR of 58.35 – an extraordinary stratification of risk, basically.

What these data begin to suggest is that there may be a continuum of risk when it comes to the effects of exposure to depression (factoring in now dose and duration of exposure) during pregnancy. If risk of adverse outcome increases with greater severity of perinatal psychiatric illness, then a mandate to treat depression during pregnancy, whether with pharmacologic or nonpharmacologic interventions (or, commonly, a combination of the two) becomes that much more imperative. Regardless of the treatment interventions that are used, the importance of treating depression during pregnancy and keeping women well before, during, and after pregnancy is so critical. Such a recommendation dovetails with the literature showing the intergenerational effects of untreated depression. Maternal depression is one of the strongest predictors of later childhood psychopathology. With current national trends moving toward mandating screening initiatives for postpartum depression, the appreciation of the extent to which depression before and during pregnancy drives risk for postpartum mood disorder broadens how we think about mitigating risk for puerperal mood disturbance. Specifically, mitigating the effects of postpartum depression on women, their children, and their families must include more effective management of depression both before and during pregnancy.

Dr. Lee S. Cohen

Dr. Lee S. Cohen

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