Depression during pregnancy rewires child’s brain for emotional issues

A large body of research links prenatal depression — that is, a mother who is depressed while pregnant — and increased risks of developmental and behavioral issues in the offspring. Though the link has been established, the reasons for it have remained a mystery. A new study from the Society for Neuroscience has changed that, finding distinct brain changes in children born to depressed mothers.

Depression is a very common mental condition that can, for a certain percentage of people, be difficult to treat. The issue can cause behavioral changes in the person suffering from it, including mood swings, apathy, and lack of motivation; it can also trigger often negative lifestyle changes like poorer diet quality, under- or overeating, lack of adequate exercise, and more.

Past studies have warned that prenatal pregnancy may increase one’s risk of having a child who experiences behavioral or developmental problems, something that may be due to a ‘rewiring’ or the child’s brain, according to the latest study on the topic. The investigation was small, focusing on 54 mothers and their children.

Mothers participating in the study were surveyed to learn about any potential depression symptoms they experienced while pregnant, including at which points in the pregnancy they occurred. As well, diffusion MRI scans were used to evaluate the brains of their offspring.

The findings reveal that children born to mothers who suffered from prenatal depression symptoms were more like have weaker connections in the brain’s white matter regions linked to emotional processing. Having been ‘rewired’ in this way, the child may be more prone to emotional dysregulation, making them likewise at greater risk of experiencing depression or other issues — boys, for example, may also experience hyperactivity and aggression.

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