Treating moms with postpartum depression helps their babies’ brains

Therapy benefits both mom and baby, according to new research.

Treating moms with postpartum depression helps their babies’ brains
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Therapy for new moms with postpartum depression may help their babies' brains, too.

That's according to new research from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.

"We found that after their moms were treated that their infant's brain activity normalized to the levels seen in our healthy infants," said study co-author Ryan Van Lieshout, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at McMaster University.

After their mothers underwent cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), the babies showed healthy changes in their nervous and cardiovascular systems. Their parents also noticed that the babies seemed to be better at regulating their emotions and behaviors, too.


40 infants of moms with postpartum depression and 40 infants of non-depressed mothers were included in the study. The babies were evaluated before and after the moms with postpartum depression received nine weeks of group therapy.

Researchers found that the therapy not only helped the moms but the babies, too.

"We believe that this is the first time that anyone has shown that treating moms' postpartum depression can lead to healthy changes in the physiology of the brains of their infants, a finding that we think provides a lot of good news," said Van Lieshout.

"This study shows that cognitive behavioral therapy, a treatment that is short, cost-effective and preferred by women, could potentially reduce the intergenerational transmission of risk from mother to child."

The study was published this week in the journal Depression and Anxiety.

Diana Spalding, midwife and Motherly's Health and Wellness Director, says that she's hopeful that these new findings will provide even more encouragement to expand the way we support new mothers and parents.

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"We need to do a better job of taking care of mothers, especially when it comes to their mental health—we need to do this because it is what is right, and because mothers deserve it," she said.

"I hope that these new findings shed even more light on how important mental health is, and that policymakers and health care providers can continue to improve access and decrease stigma around seeking help."

Jamie Orsini is an Emmy Award-winning journalist, military spouse, and a mom to two busy toddlers. In her spare time, Jamie volunteers with the Solar System Ambassador program with NASA/JPL and reads anything she can get her hands on. She’s currently working on her first novel.

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