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Moms depressed during, after pregnancy may be more likely to have depressed kids

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You may be more likely to be depressed if your mother was depressed, a new study reveals.

British researchers discovered that mothers who were depressed during pregnancy or had postpartum depression were more likely to have children who were depressed by the time they turned 18 years old.

"Depression in pregnancy should be taken seriously and treated in pregnancy," lead researcher Dr. Rebecca Pearson, a research epidemiologist at Bristol University's School of Social Community Medicine, said to the BBC.

According to government estimates, about 13 percent of new mothers and pregnant women experience depression. Postpartum depression, which is severe, long-lasting symptoms of depression that occur up to 1 year after having a child, can especially be dangerous. Doctors do not know what causes postpartum depression, but suspect it may have to do with physical and hormonal changes that occur when a woman becomes pregnant and gives birth.

For the study, researchers looked at more than 8,900 women who were pregnant between April 1991 and December 1992 and their children. The children were tracked until the age of 18.

A mom's depression severity during and after pregnancy was ranked, and the data was broken into groups based on those scores. The middle group represented mothers who had average psychological conditions during pregnancy, and each tier away from that group was quantified as one "standard deviation."

If the mother was depressed during pregnancy, her children were more likely to have depression by the time they were 18. For each mother one standard deviation away from the average, a child was 1.28 times more likely to have depression by the time they became an adult. This meant that mothers who were two standard deviations higher in depression symptoms had children 2.56 times more likely to have depression as adults.

Having depression after the child was born was also linked a child's depression risk among mothers with lower education. Each standard deviation away from the average in moms was associated with a 1.26-fold higher chance that that child would have depression. However, children of parents with higher levels of education were not observed having this increased risk.

There was no link between fathers who had depression while the child was in utero and his kid's depression later in life. However, fathers who had depression after the child was born were associated with children who were more likely to have depression as adults.

"The findings have important implications for the nature and timing of interventions aimed at preventing depression in the offspring of depressed mothers. In particular, the findings suggest that treating depression in pregnancy, irrespective of background, may be most effective," the authors wrote.

Celso Arango, professor of psychiatry at the Gregorio Marañón general university hospital, Madrid, and president-elect of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP), told the Guardian that the study was important.

"Researchers are only just beginning to realize that it is not psychiatrists, psychologists or neuroscientists that are having the biggest impact on preventing mental health issues - it is gynecologists," he said. "This is something that needs much more research as we have seen similar impacts in schizophrenia with increased risk in mothers that developed schizophrenia during the war and passed on an increased risk to their children."

The study was published in JAMA Psychiatry on Oct. 9.