The study found that moms who report having symptoms of depression in the first year after giving birth are more likely to have shorter children. Furthermore, this link continues for several years after the mother’s depression was first reported.
In the new research, Pamela Surkan, Sc.D., and a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health studied the height of 6,500 children in pre-school and kindergarten from a nationally representative population sample called the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Birth Cohort. They also surveyed the children’s mothers for depressive symptoms — but not an actual diagnosis of postpartum depression.
The researchers wanted to discover whether the mother’s depressive symptoms nine months after giving birth may have a negative impact on a child’s growth after the age of 3.
The study found that children whose mothers reported having mild or moderate depression during their child’s infancy were more than 40 percent more likely to have children with shorter height compared to mothers who did not report such depressive symptoms.
The researchers, however, found no link between lower body weight and depression among mothers when the kids were babies.
“There’s already very good reasons that mothers who are depressed should seek treatment,” said Surkan. “This is one more additional piece of evidence confirming that this is important.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that more than 1 out of every 6 mothers in the U.S. has postpartum depression, but many never seek treatment for the problem.
The researchers did not track how long the mother’s depression lasted, when it began, or whether the children with depressed mothers caught up in height to other kids eventually.
How a child’s growth may be negatively affected is not really understood by researchers at this time. The researchers offered some theories, however, suggesting the height difference may be due to poor feeding practices, less breastfeeding, attachment issues with the baby, or the child’s higher levels of stress.
Previous studies suggest that postpartum depression is associated with poor fetal growth, language and cognitive delays, and behavioral problems in children, as well as difficulty in mother-child bonding, especially in the first two years of a child’s life.
The new study appears in the journal Pediatrics.