Research Report: Depression and Premature Birth

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.

© Copyright 2008 by Daniel Brezenoff, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, therapist in Long Beach, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Ellie

    Ellie

    October 26th, 2008 at 1:02 PM

    What an amazing study. I was actually depressed a few months before getting pregnant and getting treatment for that immediately prior to my pregnancy, and my daughter was born 6 weeks premature. Thankfully she is perfect in every way but now that makes me wonder if those two things are related because there were no other risk factors at all or anything that we knew of that should have contributed to her being born prematurely.

  • Michaela

    Michaela

    October 27th, 2008 at 11:29 AM

    Everyone is so certain that pregnancy should be a time for complete happiness for women but I am here to tell you that it can be quite a depressing experience. There are so mnay changes going on in your body over which you have absolutely no control it just feels so weird to have no control over things! There are people asking you a hundred times a day how you feel, how the baby is, and you really just might want to curl up and avoid the world. I know because I experienced this first hand. I had a few of the listed risk factors for this and only wish that I had had an OB who knew what was going on. Family members just chalked it all up to hormones but it was so much more. I still reel every day from what a bad experience it all was, and even though I love my child more than life today, there was a time when I was not sure I was going to be able to feel that way.

  • daniel b

    daniel b

    October 27th, 2008 at 11:59 AM

    Please see the documentary “The Business of Being Born”. I believe strongly that the medical model approach to pregnancy turns birthing, which should be generally a joyful, natural process, into a very difficult and confusing experience for far too many women and their families.

    thebusinessofbeingborn . com/

  • Miranda

    Miranda

    October 27th, 2008 at 4:32 PM

    Being pregnant or not, it’s important to be a light person in life. Making much-a-do about anything doesnt help with getting through the day. Problems will always arise just as the day dawns. There is also an end to every problem. Before planning a baby, its important to learn to relax and let go. Have a laugh and de-stress. It doesnt matter if we cant make another happy, it matters that we have joy within. That kind rubs on. God gives us a chance to play Him when he places a life in our womb. He expects this of us, to be wise and kind. Kind on ourselves first.

  • Justin

    Justin

    October 28th, 2008 at 1:38 PM

    I think that this is one of the more interesting blogs I have seen in a while. Who knew there could be this kind of correlation between depression and premature births. I had never given any thought to this before but it does seem to make sense. When the female who is pregnant is not healthy mentally and emotionally it is no wonder that this can manifest itself in a physical manner as well. I hope that there are many medical professional who are beginning to take a look at the interelation of all of this and can help their patients make some inroads when it comes to this issue.

  • Harry

    Harry

    October 29th, 2008 at 2:15 AM

    Very true. Women find themselves lonely as they age. Those who havent been married lack responsibility for others and it makes them self centered. After a while depression hits head on and this affects all areas of their life.

  • Paula

    Paula

    October 29th, 2008 at 8:20 AM

    Depression in people who are not pregnant is often overlooked- why should we expect it to be any different in those who are? There are so many other things that I am sure the OB GYN is looking for that it is easy to overllok this. maybe it is time for all of us to start being more honest patients with our physicians and this would help us to receive better treatment. It is so dangerous for newborns who are already so fragile to enter the world prematurely before their little bodies are ready. Be honest and forthright with your doctors about what you are experiencing and perhaps more things like this could be prevented.

  • Bethany

    Bethany

    October 30th, 2008 at 4:24 AM

    Maybe I did not read closely enough but does this imply that anyone who has experienced depression in the past will have a higher chance to give birth to a premature child or only those who have been depressed close to the time or during their pregnancy?

  • daniel b

    daniel b

    October 30th, 2008 at 8:40 PM

    This study looked at depression experienced during pregnancy

  • AMH

    AMH

    October 31st, 2008 at 3:07 AM

    I would also be curious as to whether or not age of the birth mother played a role in any of this.

  • Dr. Arthur Becker-Weidman

    Dr. Arthur Becker-Weidman

    November 2nd, 2008 at 9:47 AM

    AMH,

    Certainly a younger person without the emotional, psychological, and developmental resources of an adult would have more difficulty than one with those resources. In addition, teens’ endocrine system is more volitle than that of an adult, so this would be another factor to consider.

  • Dave Y

    Dave Y

    November 5th, 2008 at 4:00 AM

    Isn’t it true that premature birth rates are actually on the rise, as are depression rates among women? There has to be a corelation here in some way. I believe this is a very interesting story and hope that professionals in several fields will continue to look at this and find ways to stop this.

  • Karen

    Karen

    November 7th, 2008 at 2:42 AM

    I know how it is when you have everyone asking about you and the baby, when is your next doctor visit, when you going to get an ultrasound… you want to tell people to just leave you alone, but not so harsh. I can’t remember going through any depression while I was pregnant, but after my son was born, the first day I brought him home, people were over at the house before I could get in the door…. I went to my bedroom and just started crying and told my husband I just everyone to leave…I didn’t want to be meant, but your emotions take over when you go through pregnancy.

  • Kate

    Kate

    November 14th, 2008 at 1:16 AM

    I think a woman gets depressed during pregnancy when she is not able to concentrate on just having the baby. My friend has a son with down’s syndrome and she went through severe depression while having the second baby. She had a whole lot of complications including her OS opening out in the 6th month. Although her baby was not premature having other real time responsibilities other than the baby at hand, gets one feeling depressed. I do think there is a correlation between depressed mothers and difficult pregnancies

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