Maternal depression
Mother's depression affects baby. Reuters

Depression during pregnancy affects language development in babies, researchers from the University of British Columbia, Harvard University and the Child & Family Research Institute (CFRI) at B C Children's Hospital have found.

"This study is among the first to show how maternal depression and its treatment can change the timing of language development in babies," says Prof Janet Werker, researcher at the University of British Columbia.

"At this point, we do not know if accelerating or delaying these milestones in development has lasting consequences on later language acquisition, or if alternate developmental pathways exist. We aim to explore these and other important questions in future studies."

Three groups of mothers were studied: The first group was being treated for depression with serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs), antidepressant pills; the second group of mothers, who were suffering from depression, did not take any antidepressants and the third group had no symptoms of depression.

During the study, researchers studied language development of the babies, by measuring changes in heart rate and eye movement to sounds and video images of native and non-native languages. The researchers measured the language development of babies at three intervals, including six and 10 months of age.

The study found that babies, whose mothers were depressed during pregnancy and used antidepressants, took longer to learn their native language compared to other babies, according to the findings published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

The researchers also found that babies, whose mothers were treated with SRIs, learned to recognise the sounds and sights of their native language more quickly than babies whose mothers were depressed during pregnancy and did not take any antidepressants.

"The findings highlight the importance of environmental factors on infant development and put us in a better position to support not only optimal language development in children but also maternal well-being. We also hope to explore more classes of antidepressants to determine if they have similar or different impact on early childhood development," said Werker.