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Depression during pregnancy can slow child’s development, new study shows

Depression during pregnancy can affect a child’s language development, according to a new study.

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Depression during pregnancy can put women between a rock and a hard place when it comes to choosing whether or not to take their anti-depressants.

In a new study out of the University of British Columbia, researchers found that both maternal depression, which researchers say affects up to 20 per cent of pregnant women, and treating mothers with a common anti-depressant drug damaged infants' language development.

Researchers played recordings to babies while they were still in the womb, then tested the babies' ability to discriminate between English and French when the infants were six and 10 months old – a skill that suggests good language development. Babies born to depressed moms were delayed; babies born to moms on anti-depressants were accelerated – but researchers say that's not a good thing in this case, according to a story in the Vancouver Sun.

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For pregnant women who worry about the negative effects of antidepressants, it's not as easy as dropping their medications for the good of the baby. In a San Diego Union-Tribune piece about prenatal depression, Kathryn Hirst, a reproductive psychiatrist and director of the UC San Diego Maternal Mental Health Clinic, explained that there are also risks to stopping drugs like Prozac or Zoloft while pregnant.

She says depression itself has been linked to negative outcomes, "such as lower birth weight, preterm delivery, preeclampsia and changes in babies and children's behaviours."

As with any medical issue, experts suggest each woman is different and she and her doctor must assess the risks of any choice.

The UBC study adds to a growing body of research that highlights the importance of the prenatal period for kids' development. In another news story today, researchers warned that eating too much mercury-laced fish while pregnant could increase the risk of a child developing attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

But being depressed isn't a choice, like whether to eat fish. Depression is commonly thought to occurr in about 11 per cent of men and 16 per cent of women in Canada.

In still other research released today, which looked at depression in the workplace, "more than 22 per cent of Canadian employees say they currently suffer from depression, with an additional 16 per cent reporting they have experienced depression previously."

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About the Author

Tralee Pearce has been a reporter at The Globe and Mail since 1999, starting as a writer in the paper’s Style section. She joined the new Life section for its launch in 2007. She covers parenting and family issues for the daily section. More

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