Prenatal Depression Risk Factors, Developmental Effects and Interventions: A Review

J Pregnancy Child Health. 2017 Feb;4(1):301. doi: 10.4172/2376-127X.1000301. Epub 2017 Feb 27.


This narrative review based on a literature search in PubMed and PsycInfo on the two terms prenatal and antenatal depression includes empirical studies, reviews and meta-analyses that have been published during the last 5 years on risk factors, developmental effects and interventions for prenatal depression. Risk factor studies that met criteria feature demographic measures (lower socioeconomic status, less education, non-marital status, non-employment, less social support and health locus of control, unintended pregnancy, partner violence and history of child abuse) and physiological variables (cortisol, amylase, and pro-inflammatory cytokines and intrauterine artery resistance). The negative effects include postpartum depression, paternal depression, and prematurity and low birth weight. Negative effects on infants include greater right frontal EEG, amygdala connectivity, cortical thinning and more difficult temperament. In childhood, externalizing and internalizing problems have been reported. The data on prenatal antidepressants (specifically SSRIs) reveal negative effects including internalizing problems as well as a greater risk for autism spectrum disorder. Prenatal interventions that have been effective include interpersonal psychotherapy, peer support, massage therapy, yoga, tai chi, and aerobic exercise. Potential underlying mechanisms are discussed as well as methodological limitations including homogeneity of samples and lack of randomization to intervention groups. Despite these limitations, the literature highlights the need for prenatal depression screening and intervention.

Keywords: Antenatal depression; Prenatal depression; Risk factors.