In my opinion, one of the greatest recent advances in perinatal psychiatry has been the increased appreciation of the effect that perinatal psychiatric illness has on critical obstetrical and neonatal outcomes, as well as risk for later child psychopathology. However, few studies, to date, have systematically examined whether duration of the exposure to perinatal psychiatric illness (or the severity of the illness) is a relevant concern.The ability to factor “dose and duration” of exposure to perinatal psychiatric illness into a model predicting risk for a number of obstetrical or neonatal outcomes allows for a more refined risk-benefit decision with respect to use of antidepressants during pregnancy. For example, there may be a threshold over which it’s even more imperative to treat depression during pregnancy than in women who do not suffer from such severe histories of psychiatric disorder.
Research along these lines has been published in a study in Nursing Research in which the question of the effect of maternal mood on infant outcomes was examined, specifically looking at stress, depression, and intimate partner violence, and not just the presence of these elements, but their duration and intensity both before and during the pregnancy ().
To do this, researchers examined survey data from Utah’s Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoringof 4,296 women who gave birth during 2009-2011. Stress, depression, and intimate partner violence, and the duration and severity of each, were determined by questionnaire. Those determinations were compared with the outcomes of gestational age, birth weight, neonatal ICU admission, and the symptoms and diagnosis of postpartum depression.
Results of the study included the following: Increased duration of depression was associated with a greater risk of neonatal ICU admission, particularly in women who were depressed both before and during their pregnancy (adjusted odds ratio, 2.48), compared with women who had no depression.
Lee Cohen, MD
is the director of the Ammon-Pinizzotto Center for Women’s Mental Health at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, which provides information resources and conducts clinical care and research in reproductive mental health. He has been a consultant to manufacturers of psychiatric medications.