A few weeks ago I did a post about how depressed new moms are less likely to breastfeed than less-depressed women. A lot of studies show that breastfed babies do better in a variety of areas–lower risk of obesity, ear infections, and pneumonia, stronger immune system, and even increased IQ. But even though depression affects breastfeeding, which in turn affects babies’ health, it’s not accurate to say that depression is responsible for poorer outcomes.
So here’s another interesting study that links mothers’ depression with their children’s health–in this case, if their height. In a just-published study, children of moms who were depressed nine months after giving birth were more likely to be short at age three and beyond than kids whose mothers were not depressed.
In the study, researcher Pamela Surkan and her colleagues found that 26% of new moms some depressive depressive symptoms. Moms with moderate to severe depression were 40% more likely than moms with mild or no depression, to have a child who was in the 10th percentile or lower for height at age 4. At age 5, those kids were 48% more likely to be in the lowest percentile.Interestingly, these kids’ weight was appropriate for their height (one might have expected that the kids would be underweight as well.
So back to the causation vs. correlation issue. While there’s a connection between maternal depression and child height, there could be other factors at work here too. For example, depressed moms may be less likely to ensure that their kids get proper nutrition or to get them medical attention when they’re ill. Those two things can definitely affect height (and weight, and childhood stress levels).
About 80% of new moms have mild depressive symptoms called “baby blues” for a few weeks after giving birth, but those symptoms typically disappear within a month or so.
Bottom line? If you or a new mom you know seems depressed several months after giving birth, make sure she sees her doctor. Otherwise, your kids could look up to you in a very different way than you’d imagined.