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Depression during pregnancy can impact foetal brain development, study finds

Depression during pregnancy can impact foetal brain development, study finds

Obesity and depression during pregnancy can raise the risk of outcomes such as poor diet, higher risk of infection and preterm birth, which can negatively affect the brain development of their offspring, researchers have suggested.

It was found this was a particular concern for women from ethnic minority or deprived socio-economic backgrounds who were more likely to have depressive symptoms during pregnancy.

The new study by researchers at King’s College London was the first to examine how obesity and depression in pregnancy can together be associated with adverse neural development in offspring.

The findings, published in eClinical Medicine, offer potential new health inequality targets for intervention in obese pregnant women.

Depression during pregnancy occurs in approximately 17% of women in developed countries and has been repeatedly associated with an increased risk of neurodevelopmental and affective disorders in the exposed offspring. As the incidence of obesity increases worldwide, there are concerns about maternal obesity as studies have found associations between maternal obesity and depression during pregnancy.

The researchers analysed data from the UK Pregnancies Better Eating and Activity Trial (UPBEAT), which collected samples from more than 1300 people who were obese during pregnancy. Based on depressive symptoms during pregnancy, each woman was categorised in one of four categories ranging from ‘no depression’ to ‘likely chronically depressed’.

The researchers found that the women with depressive symptoms had distinct socio-economic profiles and that pregnant women from ethnic minority or deprived socio-economic backgrounds were more likely to have depressive symptoms.

The women who were categorised as depressed ate less nutritional diets and were more likely to be exposed to infections. The researchers found blood samples from these women showed signs of inflammation and lower concentrations of a biomarker for placental growth. In addition, this group were more likely to miss appointments to detect gestational diabetes and three times more likely to deliver a child preterm.

These factors, linked to maternal depression and obesity, are thought to play a role in the adverse outcomes of children’s brain development during pregnancy.

Dr Julie Sigurdardottir, from King’s College London, said: ‘Long-term strategies to improving population health outcomes will need to consider the direct and indirect impact of maternal mental health and not only support the women themselves but also address the underlying socio-economic disparities in this context.’

The researchers stated that further research into the causal relationships with each factor and how they interact with possible treatments is now needed.

This comes after the Maternity Disparities Taskforce agreed that a more proactive approach is needed to ensure the right care reaches marginalised women and their families when they need it.

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