Category: Maternal Fetal Medicine
The emergence of postpartum depression (PPD) at a critical point in offspring neurodevelopment make it a time-sensitive illness. PPD affects the emergence and consolidation of neurobiological pathways responsible for stress responses, emotion regulation, and cognitive functioning. These pathways are linked with negative mental health outcomes in offspring across the lifespan and are important targets for preventive intervention. To date, there are no systematic reviews examining associations between maternal postpartum depression and the neurobiological function in offspring. The purpose of the present study was to locate and synthesize the results of studies that examine the neurobiological consequences of PPD on infant offspring.
We performed searches of the peer-reviewed literature published between 1990 and November 2019 using the following electronic databases: MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, and Web of Science. The search strategy included terms related to postpartum depression, infant, and measures of biological pathways and neural systems including neuroimaging, brain activity, vagal tone, and cortisol reactivity.
A total of 32 studies (out of 835 references retrieved from bibliographic databases) met inclusion criteria and were included in this systematic review. Studies included both observational and intervention studies.
A small, but growing body of literature suggests that PPD can disrupt the development of important neurobiological pathways in offspring. For this reason, timely detection and treatment is imperative to promoting optimal neurodevelopment and health trajectories in the offspring of women with PPD. Research utilizing larger samples and stronger study designs (e.g., randomized controlled trials) are required to provide the insights needed to prevent the intergenerational transmission of risk from mother to infant and before its myriad negative consequences manifest.
Ryan Van Lieshout– Canada Research Chair in the Perinatal Programming of Mental Disorders, McMaster University