This review of recent research on prenatal depression suggests that it is a strong predictor of postpartum depression and is more common than postpartum depression. Prenatal depression has been associated with excessive activity and growth delays in the fetus as well as prematurity, low birthweight, disorganized sleep and less responsiveness to stimulation in the neonate. Infants of depressed mothers have difficult temperament, and later in development attentional, emotional and behavioral problems have been noted during childhood and adolescence, as well as chronic illnesses in adulthood. Several variables have confounded the effects of prenatal depression including comorbid anxiety and anger as well as stressful life events. Potential mediating variables are low prenatal maternal dopamine and serotonin levels and elevated cortisol and norepinephrine. The associated intrauterine artery resistance may limit blood flow, oxygen and nutrients to the fetus. Some studies also suggest the heritability of developmental problems for the children of prenatally depressed mothers, including ADHD and antisocial behavior. Multivariate, longitudinal research is needed to disentangle these confounding and mediating variables.
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