June 30 (UPI) -- Children born to mothers who had depression during or after pregnancy are nearly twice as likely as others to develop the disorder later in life, an analysis published Tuesday by JAMA Network Open found.
In general, the risk was slightly higher for children of mothers with perinatal depression than those whose mothers had the postpartum form of the condition, the researchers said.
"Persistent depression in mothers increases the risk of early-onset depression in the offspring as a result of poor engagement and impaired ability to cater to the child's needs," co-author Dr. Sudhakar Selvaraj, an assistant professor of psychiatry at UTHealth McGovern Medical School in Houston, told UPI.
"Providing support for mothers is critical to help them cope with stress and empower them to provide adequate child care," said Selvaraj, who also is a psychiatrist with UT Physicians.
One in seven women -- or roughly 600,000 annually -- experience depression within one year of childbirth, according to estimates. Up to 20 percent suffer from the condition during pregnancy, research suggests.
In recent years, an increasing number of studies have looked at the long-term effects of maternal depression on offspring.
For the new analysis, Selvaraj and his colleagues reviewed data from six studies with nearly 16,000 mother-child pairs. In all studies, the children were 12 years or older, they said.
Children born to mothers who suffered from depression during pregnancy were 70 percent more likely than other children to be diagnosed with the condition as adolescents or adults, the researchers found.
In addition, those whose mothers had depression prior to childbirth were 78 percent more likely to develop depression than others, they said.
Meanwhile, children of mothers with postpartum depression were 66 percent more likely to suffer from depression later in life, according to the researchers.
"We need to improve our screening efforts and treatment for mothers experiencing depression," Selvaraj said.
"We know from several studies that maternal depression during and after pregnancy has been associated with reduced growth rates, malnutrition and an increased risk of childhood health problems and obesity, all of [which] can have a deleterious effect on children's mental and emotional health."