Babies of Pregnant Women With Depression or Anxiety Have Lower Development of White Matter in Their Brains

A new study led by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison has found that there is a relationship between a pregnant woman’s mental health symptoms and white matter development in her child’s brain at one month after birth. The researchers found that babies who had mothers with higher levels of anxiety and depression had less developed white matter in their brains. White matter helps the brain process information quickly and forms connections between areas of the brain. These pathways are important to healthy brain development.

The study worked with 100 expectant mothers who answered questions about their mental health during their third trimester. These woman did not have a mental health disorder but experienced a variety of depression and anxiety symptoms that are common during pregnancy. One month after the women gave birth, the researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to scan the newborn’s brains while they were sleeping.

In addition to a correlation between high depression and anxiety levels of pregnant mothers and white matter development in their babies, researchers found that these symptoms affect white matter differently in male and female infants.

The scientists have finished brain scans of these same children at 2 years after birth and analysis is underway. According to the research team, more studies will need to be done in order to track development in these children in order to determine how the developmental trajectories play out over longer periods of time.

The study, “Association of Prenatal Maternal Depression and Anxiety Symptoms With Infant White Matter Microstructure,” was published on the website of the journal JAMA Pediatrics. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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