Pregnant women, who have depression symptoms during pregnancy, may be more likely to deliver prematurely. That’s according to a new study reported in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology.
Pregnancy is supposed to be one of the happiest times of a woman’s life, but for many women this is a time of confusion, sadness and even depression. According to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG), between 14-23% of women will struggle with some symptoms of depression during pregnancy.
According to researchers, women who screened positively for possible clinical depression have an increased chance of preterm birth. Researchers found that of more than 14 000 pregnant women, 14 percent delivered before the 37th week of pregnancy, versus 10 percent of other women.
These women were screened for prenatal depression between 2003 and 2011. Nine percent screened positive, which meant that they were at risk of clinical depression and were referred for a full evaluation.
However, researchers say that this finding does not prove that depression directly leads to preterm birth, or that treating depression will prevent preterm births.
The study could not weigh other variables such as mom’s smoking and drinking habits during pregnancy, and her pre-pregnancy weight. According to researchers, even though they were able to consider factors such as mother’s race and age – depression was still linked to the risk of a preterm birth.
These findings support past studies that have found a link between prenatal depression and preterm birth, says senior researcher Dr. Richard K Silver, of the NorthShore University HealthSystem and University of Chicago in Illinois.
Signs of depression during pregnancy
Women with depression usually experience some of the following symptoms for 2 weeks or more:
- Persistent sadness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Loss of interest in activities that you usually enjoy
- Recurring thoughts of death, suicide, or hopelessness
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Change in eating habits
What other studies say
Other studies have found that women who take antidepressants during pregnancy have a higher risk of preterm birth. However, this does not prove that these medications are to blame.
Silver says this may just serve as a proxy for the potential effects of depression.
According to researchers, women with depression symptoms were 30 percent more likely than symptom-free women to deliver early.
Silver confesses that this is a tricky thing to study, because researchers cannot ethically conduct a clinical trial where they withhold treatment from some depressed women while treating others. He suggests that pregnant women with depression should be educated on the potential warning signs of preterm labour.
- Pressure in the pelvis area, that feels like the baby is pushing down
- Vaginal bleeding
- Cramps and contractions that come every 10 minutes or more often
There are cases where medication can be given to stop early labour, or at least delay birth.
While many women opt to stay away from any medication during pregnancy, there are other treatments that can and must be considered such as:
- Support groups
- Private psychotherapy and
- Light therapy
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, depression screening can benefit pregnant women, new moms and their families, and should be “strongly considered” by women and their doctors.