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Does post-partum depression lead to shorter children?

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According to the journal Pediatrics, the answer may be yes.

A new study by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, Md., found that 4-year-olds whose mother suffered mild or moderate depression during their first year of life were 40% more likely to be at or below the 10th percentile for height than children whose mothers did not have post-partum depression. More than 10,000 children in the Baltimore area were included in the study.

However, the effect did not not last for some children with mothers who had mild depression, who shot up in height at age 5. For those whose mothers had moderate depression, 48% were at or below 10th percentile at age 5. The study did not continue to look at the children after they turned 5.

Dr. Kenneth Robbins, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine (who was not part of the study) told ABC News that the cause of the relationship might be because the children themselves are depressed, which can affect the endocrine system and growth hormones. Another theory, posited by Dr. Michelle Terry, an attending physician at Seattle Children’s Hospital and clinical associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine to US News and World Reports, is that depressed mothers who lose their appetite or have insomnia may have an affect on how much their baby eats and sleeps. “If the mother has mood swings or is ambivalent, the baby may not look forward to eating as a social interaction time,” Terry said. The study itself suggests that having a depressed mother causes stress in infants, and high stress increases cortisol levels which in turn cause decreases in growth hormone.

Other studies done on the effect of post-partum depression on children has found that it can result in delays in language and cognition, behavioral problems, and can effect mother-child bonding.