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Depression and Anxiety Can Lead to Infant Mortality

A fascinating study of mothers in rural Bangladesh has found that “clinical depression and anxiety during pregnancy can result in smaller babies who are more likely to die in infancy.”  Researchers suggest that poor maternal mental health, more so than poverty, malnutrition or low socioeconomic status, has an adverse effect on infant mortality rates and the overall health of children.

18% of the women examined were diagnosed with depression and 25% suffered anxiety while pregnant.  Study author Hashima-E- Nasreen notes that a high infant mortality rate as a result of these afflictions is likely to “perpetuate the cycle of mental health problems and underdevelopment” in South Asia.

According to PsychCentral, “one way to reach the internationally-agreed Millennium Development Goal to reduce child mortality in the developing world would be to invest in mental health support services in this area.”  Agreed.  But it doesn’t take a genius to wonder why these women are depressed and anxious in the first place.  According to the United Nations, women in rural Bangladesh “have a nearly 50% lower adult literacy rate than men,” have “extensive work loads with dual responsibility for farm and household production” and their “contribution to agriculture, which is counted as unpaid family labour, is grossly underestimated.”  Sounds pretty depressing to me. 

But what about America?  How many pregnant women in the U.S. suffer from anxiety and depression?  Probably more than you think.

Psych Central reports that in a Boston-area study, “More than 20 percent of (women) tested positive for an anxiety disorder, depressive symptoms, or both prenatally, and 17 percent screened positive at six weeks postpartum.”  The really scary part?  “The majority of women who screened positive were not identified by their providers during pregnancy or postpartum,” according to experts.

A team from the University of British Columbia “investigated the medical treatment of anxiety disorders in the months surrounding birth,” finding “complex results in which both drug and non-drug treatments were associated with positive and negative outcomes.”

The question remains: is treating mental health disorders with potentially harmful drugs less perilous for the fetus than the effects of unchecked anxiety and depression?  Researchers will in the future likely evaluate the effectiveness of non-prescription treatments to help pregnant women with these issues.

Despite the potential for danger, SD blogger Paula decided to keep taking Prozac while pregnant with both of her daughters, because she felt too distraught off the medication.  In my life, I’ve endured two bouts of clinical anxiety, both after the death of a family member.  I’ve never taken medication for it, but I’ve used talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy techniques as well as lots of good old-fashioned reaching out to friends and deep cleansing breaths.  As anyone who has experienced even mild anxiety knows, it can be a crippling experience, one I’m so glad I didn’t face during my pregnancy.  I’m lucky in that during those nine months, I felt stronger than ever.  (And damn if my hair and nails didn’t look good, too!)

Have you dealt with anxiety and depression as a parent?  If so, have you made changes in your life to help you better handle it?

Photo: Society for Humanistic Psychology

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