Linking Maternal Depression to Placental Health

A young woman with a sad expression looks outside while holding a mug.

NICHD researchers study various factors that influence healthy pregnancies and optimal outcomes. In a study from NICHD’s Epidemiology Branch, researchers evaluated the effects of depression on the placenta. Previous studies have linked depression during pregnancy to a higher risk of miscarriage, preterm delivery, and preeclampsia.

  • Participants with first and second trimester depressive symptoms had placentas that aged an average 0.72 weeks faster than those without depressive symptoms.
  • Compared to participants without depressive symptoms, participants with depressive symptoms in the second trimester had placentas that aged an average of .41 weeks faster than those without depressive symptoms.
  • Placentas of male fetuses of participants with second trimester depressive symptoms aged .53 weeks faster than those without depressive symptoms. However, placental aging in participants with female fetuses did not differ significantly between those who had second trimester depressive symptoms and those who did not.
  • The authors did not find an association between placental aging and depression in the third trimester. They noted that of these participants, roughly 61% were not depressed in the second trimester and theorized that the comparatively limited exposure to depression late in pregnancy was not enough to influence placental aging.
  • Currently, it is recommended that pregnant people be screened for depression from late in the second trimester to early in the third trimester (from 24-28 weeks). If the study findings are confirmed, it may be more helpful to screen for depression earlier in pregnancy, from the first to the second trimester.

NICHD co-authors of the paper include Haleema Saeed, Jing Wu, Katherine L. Grantz, and Fasil Tekola-Ayele.

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