Many mothers know that stress can have a negative effect during their pregnancy. Experts urge pregnant women to relax during their pregnancy and avoid situations or events that are particularly stressful, because babies born under those conditions tend to be less healthy in general. Specifically, their weight is either too high or too low and they tend to have more behavioral problems by the time they are one year old. This weekend, I visited my mom and we were talking about how her pregnancy went when I was still in utero. The stories were positive, but there were definitely some events in her life at the time that were heartbreaking and difficult for anyone to deal with. This made me wonder whether or not depression or extreme sadness might have an effect on an unborn baby.

I assumed that, as with stress, depression might have a negative effect on a baby’s development. Surprisingly, studies show that it doesn’t. However, when a pregnant woman is depressed, there is a good chance she’s having trouble sleeping, not eating right and experiencing high levels of stress, which have their own negative effects. Depressed people tend to overeat or under eat, which could lead to lifelong health problems for a baby in utero at the time. Also, a lack of sleep can result in development problems for a baby who needs all of his mother’s resources.

Though studies show that depression itself won’t harm a developing baby, they do suggest that depressed women tend to be anxious or stressed, which could cause a baby’s development to be stunted. Anxiety puts the body in “fight or flight” mode, so reproduction and fetal health become lower on the body’s natural list of priorities. In that way, depression could harm your baby.

If you’re feeling depressed during your pregnancy, speak with your doctor about it as soon as possible. Not only will he or she know to monitor the health of your baby in light of the possible consequences, but also they will be able to recommend a therapist or a support group to get you back to feeling your pregnant best. Pregnancy itself can cause an influx of new emotions, so they might be especially prominent if you’re experiencing other upsetting factors in your life at the same time. No matter how you’re feeling during pregnancy, know that you’re not alone and help is out there.

Source: SM Marcus: Depression during pregnancy: rates, risks and consequences. Canadian Journal of Clinical Pharmacology Volume 16 Issue 1 pp. 15-22 January 2009

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