What Depresses Moms-to-Be the Most? Their Unsupportive Partners

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In yet more troubling news for expecting mothers — especially those who got pregnant unintentionally, or conceived to try to save a relationship — a study finds that a mother’s concerns about an ambivalent father-to-be can be harmful not only to her mental health, but also to health of her unborn infant.

Maternal emotional distress, as the condition is known, refers to depression in pregnant women — we’re talking real depression, not I’m-as-big-as-a-Hefty-39-gallon-trash-bag depression. This kind of depression has been linked to premature delivery, low birth weight and a bunch of ill-effects later in a child’s life. (More on How the First Nine Months Shape the Rest of Your Life)

Now a new study suggests that the biggest predictor of maternal blues is a woman’s concerns about her relationship with her partner. The research, published by BMC Public Health, was drawn from a questionnaire given to more than 50,000 pregnant Norwegian women.

Work issues, disease and alcohol problems were also linked to a lowering of the maternal mood. (More on Expecting? Text ‘BABY’ for Advice About Healthy Pregnancy)

But having an unsupportive partner was the most strongly associated with maternal depression. And, conversely, women who felt that the father was supportive were better able to deal with all the other stresses of pregnancy: maternity leave, irregular working hours, low income, frequent moving. The one piece of good news was that older moms seemed to cope better with all the vicissitudes of pregnancy.

Research done by a different set of scientists at Columbia University found that fetuses of depressed women show signs of distress when the women are asked to do a challenging mental task, while those of moms with a normal mood don’t, even though the mother might be doing exactly the same thing. (More on Time. com: Kid Crazy: Why We Exaggerate the Joys of Parenthood)

The effects of premature birth and depression during gestation have wider implications than just for the immediate family, and the researchers urged that the issue be dealt with as a matter of public health. “Failure to recognize and treat emotional distress during pregnancy stores up problems for both mother and child, and impacts continuing family welfare,” said one of the co-authors, Gun-Mette Røsand from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. “It is important that antenatal courses should include relationship classes and that close attention should be paid to women who lack the support of a good relationship.”