As if dealing with depression during pregnancy isn't difficult enough, a study from University of Michigan researchers has found that babies born to depressed moms have higher levels of stress hormones and other neurological and behavioral differences compared to babies born to moms without the mood disorder. Published online December 13, 2010, in the journal Infant Behavior and Development, researchers found that children of depressed mothers had higher levels of cortisol and other stress hormones at birth, as measured in umbilical cord samples. In newborn exams conducted at two weeks, researchers found that babies of depressed moms tended to have decreased muscle tone.
But babies of depressed moms adjusted more quickly to stimuli like a bell, rattle, or light—a sign of neurological maturity. This could also be a side effect of over-exposure to stress hormones before birth, study authors speculate. "The two possibilities [for this] are that are either more sensitive to stress and respond more vigorously to it, or that they are less able to shut down their stress response," says the study's lead investigator, Dr. Delia M. Vazquez, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School, in a school news release.
If you feel depressed, talk to your doctor or midwife. Previous studies have shown that babies born to women with severe depression may be more likely to be born prematurely or underweight, have diminished hand-to-mouth coordination, and be less cuddly. Symptoms of depression during pregnancy include feeling sad or "blue" for two weeks or longer, trouble sleeping, lack of interest, difficulty concentrating, and thoughts or ideas about suicide.