Depressed and anxious women give birth to smaller babies

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A new study by researchers from Sweden and Bangladesh have found that women suffering from depression and anxiety during pregnancy give birth to smaller babies who are more likely to have health problems when they are born and are more likely to die in infancy.

This was the first study of its kind to look at a non Western population. The study focused on 720 pregnant women in the third trimester of pregnancy living in two rural areas of Bangladesh and was a joint study between the Karolinska Instituet in Sweden and the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC).

The mental health of the pregnant women was assessed before birth and up to 8 months after the birth using the Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Scale and State Trait Anxiety Inventory.

Over 80 percent of the babies born were weighed within 48 hour of delivery and baseline data provided socio economic, obstetric, reproductive, social support and other information.

“18 percent of the women we studied in two rural areas of Bangladesh were diagnosed as having depression and one-quarter as having anxiety during pregnancy, and these women were much more likely to give birth to very small babies” said Hashima E Nasreen, leader of the study.

“This is a worrying problem, since low birth weight is strongly associated with infant death, which may in turn perpetuate the cycle of mental health problems and underdevelopment” said Nasreen.

Nasreen and colleagues found that a total of 19 percent of women gave birth to small babies weighing less than 2,500 grams.

Women who were suffering from depression and anxiety during pregnancy were twice as likely to give birth to smaller babies as those women who were in better mental health whilst carrying their baby.

The study highlighted how much of an influence depression and anxiety has on infant health and indeed that mental health would appear to play a greater role in infant health than the likes of poverty and lack of nutrition.

“The reduction of LBW (low birth weight) at term is an important indicator of the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals for reducing child mortality and is a key indicator of progress” the researchers concluded.

“Our study indicates that, in order to achieve this goal, maternal depressive and anxiety symptoms during pregnancy need to be addressed.”

The study has been published in the online journal BMC Public Health.

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