Depressed Moms and Low Birth Weight

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Nothing says happy, healthy baby like chubby cheeks and legs. But each year, one in 13 babies born in the U-S is considered to be low birth weight…which means they weigh less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces. And birth weight is about more than just esthetics or maternal pride, babies who are low-weight face health problems as newborns and an increased risk of long-term disability, such as mental retardation, cerebral palsy and breathing problems.

Over the years, researchers have discovered a direct link between maternal physical health and a baby’s birth weight. Now, a new study shows mental health may be an important factor as well.

In our continuing series, Making Sense of Mental Health, WBHM’s Rosemary Pennington speaks with the author of that study. University of New Hampshire professor Dr. Karen Conway says her work shows maternal depression leads to smaller babies. She also says there’s a clear socio-economic and racial gap when it comes to who will develop depression while pregnant. Poor women are much more likely to develop maternal depression than their more affluent counterparts; African Americans more likely than whites.

Editor’s note: This is our latest piece in a year-long commitment to covering mental health issues in Alabama. You can learn more about our “Making Sense of Mental Health” project and find local mental health resources — as our commitment continues throughout the year — inside this website.