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Antidepressants for Postpartum Depression Could Mean Better Mental Health for Kids, Too
  • Posted August 30, 2023

Antidepressants for Postpartum Depression Could Mean Better Mental Health for Kids, Too

If you are a new mom struggling with postpartum depression, taking antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may also bear benefits for your child's development.

That's according to new research that found the medications were associated with improvements in a child's behavior up to five years after birth.

Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King's College London collaborated with their counterparts at the University of Oslo in Norway, analyzing data on more than 61,000 mothers and their children who were recruited during pregnancy from the Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Cohort Study.

Among the findings were reductions in child behavioral difficulties, such as conduct problems; attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms; and maternal depression. This also led to improved satisfaction in partner relationships.

“Postnatal depression is a common psychiatric disorder that affects 10 to 15% of women in the first year after childbirth. In the U.K., however, only 3% of women with postnatal depression receive SSRI treatment. This is likely due to a lack of awareness of postnatal depression, alongside concerns about the long-term impact that taking antidepressant medications in the postnatal period may have on child outcomes,” said study first author Dr. Kate Liu, a research associate at the institute.

“Our study found no evidence suggesting that postnatal SSRI treatment conferred an increased risk for child development," she added in a university news release. "In fact, we found that postnatal SSRI treatment reduced maternal depression and child behavioral difficulties that are associated with postnatal depression."

Mothers were recruited in weeks 17 to 18 of their pregnancy. More than 8,600 met the diagnostic criteria for postnatal depression at six months postpartum and more than 170 of these received postnatal SSRI treatment.

The researchers measured maternal depression and child emotional and behavioral difficulties when the child was ages 1.5, 3 and 5 years.

They also gathered maternal-reported partner relationship satisfaction at 6 months, 1.5 years and 3 years postpartum.

More severe postnatal depression was associated with higher levels of future maternal depression, poorer partner relationship satisfaction, higher levels of child emotional and behavioral difficulties, poorer motor and language development, and increased ADHD symptoms.

The SSRI treatment changed the association between postnatal depression and maternal depression at 1.5 and 5 years postpartum, child behavioral difficulties at ages 1.5 and 5 years, ADHD symptoms at age 5, and relationship satisfaction across all measured timepoints.

The study, published online Aug. 29 in JAMA Network Open, was supported by funding from Wellcome and The Research Council of Norway.

“Postnatal depression is underrecognized and undertreated. It's critical that we view it as the severe mental illness that it is and ensure it is treated properly to mitigate some of the associated negative outcomes in mothers, children and wider family. Our study found no evidence that SSRI treatment for mothers affected by postnatal depression was linked with an increased risk for childhood emotional difficulties, behavioral problems or motor and language delay,” said senior study author Dr. Tom McAdams, a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow at King's College.

More information

Here's more on postpartum depression.

SOURCE: King's College London, news release, Aug. 29, 2023

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