Research shows that stress hormones – which play a crucial role in the development of the unborn baby – shoot up in women who are depressed during pregnancy.
High levels of these hormones are involved in triggering labour and leading scientists believe they could be behind many of the 45,000 premature births that occur in the UK each year. While many of these early births can be explained by medical reasons, such as infection or complications with the pregnancy, around 30 per cent have previously been unexplained.
Premature babies – born before 37 weeks of pregnancy – are more likely to die in the first weeks of life and are at risk of a host of health problems, with one in ten developing a permanent disability such as lung disease, cerebral palsy, blindness or deafness.
Sophie Corlett, of the mental health charity Mind, said that the stigma associated with depression meant that many pregnant women are reluctant to ask for help. “When women are pregnant, they realise they are supposed to be full of excitement and they are bemused and slightly ashamed of not feeling that way, which can more difficult to seek support.”
If you’d like to talk to someone about depression and pregnancy, visit www.mind.org.uk or mention it to your midwife or GP.