Tori's Blog

Does Depression During Pregnancy Cause Later Aggression In Children?

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

A new, British study was recently released that showed a possible link between a woman’s depression during pregnancy and later teenage aggression in her children. Although it is vitally important to continually research the subject of pre and postnatal depression, I am critical of this particular study.

The subject group came from a primarily lower socioeconomic class and many of the participants already had some depression and also a history of behavioral difficulties as children themselves. Many of them were also described as being generally more aggressive as adults. It is quite possible that these women also have some emotional issues that affect their parenting styles and how they interact with their children. Any or all of these factors can significantly influence the behavior of their children later in life.

In my experience, pregnant women who suffer from depression during pregnancy very likely have also had a previous history of it. There is an enormous difference between feeling sad or overwhelmed and clinical depression. The hormonal changes that take place during pregnancy, as well as the physiological changes, can cause a cascade of feelings.

When I work with a new mom and her partner, we talk about the importance of getting enough rest, having good nutrition and a sensible exercise routine.  Exhaustion plays a big part in experiencing feelings of overwhelm, both before and after the baby is born. We also talk about how important it is for both partners to express their feelings and of having physical and emotional support. If they have serious feelings of sadness or despair, I encourage them to talk to their doctors first. If a woman feels she is unable to eat or cannot get out of bed, or is thinking about harming herself, she should be referred to a psychiatrist for appropriate care.

I think we have to be very careful about making statements based on studies of this size and limitations. Women face so many pressures during pregnancy and, of course, want to do what is best for their babies. I worry about women feeling greater pressure and even guilt for how the vast range of normal emotions they feel during pregnancy might be affecting their babies. This is certainly an area that needs further study but with more controlled parameters and with a greater selection of people from all different backgrounds.

I spoke to Harvard Common Press this week about this study and I’d love to hear what you think.

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