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Study finds depression during pregnancy can alter a child’s brain

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WATCH ABOVE: University of Calgary research is highlighting the importance of screening woman for depression during pregnancy after finding that left untreated, pre-natal depression can alter a child's brain. Heather Yourex-West reports.

University of Calgary research is highlighting the importance of screening woman for depression during pregnancy after finding that left untreated, depression during and after pregnancy can alter a child’s brain.

“What we saw suggests that the kids’ brains are developing prematurely, so they’re sort of ageing too quickly,” said Dr. Catherine Lebel, a researcher with the University of Calgary and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute.

“That can be a negative thing because they lose plasticity, flexibility, adaptability of their brain.”

READ MORE: Mom shares gripping photo of what postpartum depression looks like

Lebel’s research lab used MRI to look at the brain structures of 52 children between the age of two and five. Most of the children were born to mothers who had not experienced depression during or after pregnancy but five of the mothers had.

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“We found that maternal depressive symptoms in the second trimester were related to the kids’ brain structure and also depressive symptoms in the postpartum period so up to two to three months after the kids were born.”

According to the University of Calgary, approximately 18 per cent of women experience depression during pregnancy, but Lebel says prenatal depression screening is not commonly done.

“I think we’re really good at the postpartum aspect but the prenatal maybe less so, but this suggests that it’s not just a problem for the women themselves but it can actually impact their babies as well.”

READ MORE: Mothers talk candidly about postpartum depression: ‘You’re not alone’

Lebel says more research is needed to determine what these brain changes will mean for kids long-term but other studies have found children born to mothers with depression during and after pregnancy are more likely to struggle in school or have problems relating to others.

The full study can be viewed online in the journal of Biological Psychiatry.