Researchers at the NorthShore University HealthSystem and the University of Chicago in Illinois say that expecting mothers who are depressed are more likely to give birth to their babies prematurely.
The investigation that arrived at this conclusion was conducted on a sample population of 14,000 pregnant women. Once they checked for depression symptoms, scientists determined that 14 percent of depressed test subjects gave birth before the 37th week of pregnancy.
Only 10 percent of non-depressed women gave birth so early on. The average human gestation period is 40 weeks. Doctors consider normal any pregnancy that is carried to term for anywhere from 37 to 42 weeks. Delivering outside this range is considered abnormal.
Details of the new study were published in the latest issue of the esteemed American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, PsychCentral
reports. Scientists determined that the link between depression and preterm birth still endured after accounting for factors such as race and age of the mothers.
Some of the factors that were not included in the research are the weight of the mothers before they became pregnant, and the amount of alcohol and tobacco they consumed while carrying their children.
Senior study researcher Dr. Richard K. Silver is quick to point out that the investigation does not suggest a cause-and-effect-type connection. Its purpose is to demonstrate the link exists, and to draw attention to it.
It will now fall to other research groups to pick up this line of study, and determine how depression leads to preterm births, if that is indeed the case. A leading suggestion is that depression places would-be mothers under extreme stress, a state that puts great pressure on their bodies.
Therapy and participating in support groups currently appear to be the only options in addressing this problem, since pregnant women are mostly reluctant to take antidepressants, for fear of adversely affecting their unborn babies.
The overall results of the study show that depressed women are 30 percent more likely to deliver their babies prematurely than peers who display no symptoms. Silver says that upcoming investigations will need to determine whether therapies against depression can reduce the incidence of preterm births.
This would be of tremendous use for physicians, who currently have to treat numerous cases of infants born ahead of schedule. Being born prematurely is in itself a risk factor for a variety of diseases and disorders, including obesity, schizophrenia and so on.