so seen that significantly, the length of pregnancy in average, was much shorter in depressed women. This the researchers attributed to the overproduction of stress hormones.
According to O’Keane: "There's a myth really that women are protected from depression during pregnancy and that they are happy during pregnancy. But this actually isn't true if you look at it scientifically."
O’Keane says this medical myth might have arisen because most women do not go to the doctor with depressive symptoms until after they have had the baby. At that point, the stress of trying to care for the infant at the same time often becomes overwhelming.
The NHS says that around one in 10 women in the UK suffer from post-natal depression.
Higher levels of hormones are actually necessary for the normal development of the baby, but the levels of these hormones are also raised in expecting women with depression.
If the stress hormone levels are too high though - for example if the mother is depressed during the pregnancy - this can lead to premature birth, the leading cause of infant death and postnatal illness in the world, warns O’Keane.
Not only that, there is also evidence that women with the highest stress hormone levels are more prone to having children with abnormal stress responses themselves. "This is an inter-generational way of transmitting depression without it being genetic," says the doctor.
So, wherein lies the solution ?
O’Keane believes that more doctors should be aware of depression during pregnancies and that women on anti-depressants should not automatically stop taking them when they conceive.
"I don't think women with a history of depression should discontinue their medication. I think they should go to a perinatal specialist who can recommend the best treatment during the pregnancy”, she opines.
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