A new study in the Journal Human Reproduction reports that depression is a measurable risk factor for pregnant women and their infants, leading to higher rates of premature birth. “Depression during pregnancy has been understudied, under-recognized and frequently ignored,” Dr. De-Kun Li, who authored the study, told Bloomberg News. “Now, we have the strong evidence that I hope will raise the alarm.’
Previous research indicates that as many as a fifth of pregnant women will experience depression, with about 1 out of 15 pregnant women having severe symptoms like anhedonia, sleep disturbance, and suicidality. In this new study by Kaiser Permanente, of 791 San Francisco Kaiser members 10 weeks pregnant, 41% had either significant or severe depression symptoms, and women with symptoms of severe depression had twice the risk of early delivery in the new study. Women with less severe depression had a 60 percent higher risk of giving birth prematurely, defined as delivery before 37 weeks.
Premature babies born early are at high risk for hospitalization, chronic health conditions, or death, and the United State spends $26 billion annually on care for premature infants. That, combined with the implications of the new study, could be an important factor for advocates of insurance parity and mental health coverage.
The Kaiser study found that women without a college education, women who have had had more than two previous pregnancies, women who had difficulty getting pregnant and obese women were at increased risk for depression.
Dr. Tracy Flanagan, director of women’s health at Kaiser, told Bloomberg, “This study is a wake-up call to OB/GYNs to start asking questions.”
Doctors and mental health professionals should be aware that depression is common among pregnant women and assess for mood disturbances in our pregnant patients and clients.
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