Maternal Depression May Affect Kid’s Stress and Physical Health Throughout Their Life

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This is an important study, but the results are not entirely surprising. Research suggests that children who are exposed to maternal depression may have impaired immune systems and stress responses. These impairments could lead to higher levels of stress and throughout their lives, as well as an increase in risk of psychiatric disorders. The study really highlights the connection between maternal mood and psychiatric disorders and their affect on parenting.

The study, titled Depression & Anxiety, focuses on the effects of maternal depression on children.

Researchers followed 125 mothers and children, from birth to 10 years of age. At the 10 year mark, they measured levels of cortisol (CT) and secretory immunoglobulin (s-IgA) in both groups. Cortisol and secretory immunoglobulin are markers of stress and the immune system. Researchers also studied mother-child interactions and the children’s externalizing and internalizing symptoms. In addition, both groups underwent psychiatric diagnoses.

Researchers found that women who suffered from maternal depression had higher CT and s-IgA levels. They also displayed more negative parenting behaviors.

These behaviors were characterized by negative affect, criticism, and intrusion. Sadly, the children of depressed mothers in the study also had higher s-IgA levels. They also exhibited symptoms of certain psychiatric disorders and had greater social withdrawal.

The research team concluded that exposure to maternal depression had a negative impact on the child’s own immune system, stress responses, and physical well-being. Unfortunately, moms who suffer from depression often struggle to parent effectively, while battling their own mental health issues.

Dr. Ruth Feldman, of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel is the study’s senior author. Dr. Feldman says, “We also found that the impairments to the child’s stress response and immunity were shaped by similar effects of the depression on the mothers’ stress and immune system and their consequent impact on reducing the quality of maternal caregiving”. The study really stresses the importance of early intervention and treatment for maternal depression and other mood disorders. When a mom is depressed or suffering from anxiety, her parenting suffers. This can greatly impact not only her life, but the lives of her children.

If you suffer from maternal depression or anxiety, please know that help is out there. You’re not alone.

(Image: iStock/chameleonseye)