Antidepressants used in the treatment of postnatal depression in mothers can significantly improve behaviour in children up to five years after birth, a study has found.
Researchers at King's College London (KCL) found that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) treatment was associated with a reduction in child behavioural difficulties that are associated with the condition.
Up to 15 per cent of women experience postnatal depression in the first year after childbirth, but only 3 per cent receive SSRI treatment.
Academics at KCL, in collaboration with the University of Oslo, analysed data from over 61,000 mothers and their children recruited during pregnancy from the Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Cohort Study.
They found that SSRI treatment for postnatal depression was associated with better outcomes up to five years after childbirth than mothers with postnatal depression who did not take SSRIs.
These included reduced child behavioural difficulties, child ADHD symptoms and maternal depression, as well as improved satisfaction in partner relationships.
The research was undertaken by academics from KCL’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN).
Dr Kate Liu, Research Associate at the IoPPN and first author of the study, said: “Our study found no evidence suggesting that postnatal SSRI treatment conferred an increased risk for child development. In fact, we found that postnatal SSRI treatment reduced maternal depression and child behavioural difficulties that are associated with postnatal depression.”
Of the 61,081 mothers recruited in week 17-18 of pregnancy, 8,671 met the diagnostic criteria for postnatal depression at six months postpartum and 177 of these received postnatal SSRI treatment.
Mother and child outcomes, including maternal depression and child emotional and behavioural difficulties, were measured when the child was aged one-and-a-half, three and five. Maternal reported partner relationship satisfaction was measured at six months, 18 months and three years postpartum.
Researchers found that more severe postnatal depression was associated with higher levels of future maternal depression, poorer partner relationship satisfaction and higher levels of child emotional and behavioural difficulties.
It was also linked to poorer motor and language development and increased ADHD symptoms.
Postnatal SSRI treatment was found to reduce the link between postnatal depression and maternal depression at 1.5 and five years postpartum, child behavioural difficulties at ages 1.5 and five years and ADHD symptoms at age five.
Dr Tom McAdams, Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow at the IoPPN and senior author of the study, said: “Postnatal depression is under-recognised and undertreated. It's critical that we view it as the severe mental illness that it is and ensure it is treated properly to mitigate some of the associated negative outcomes in mothers, children and wider family.”
He added: “Our study found no evidence that SSRI treatment for mothers affected by postnatal depression was linked with an increased risk for childhood emotional difficulties, behavioural problems or motor and language delay.”
The study was published in the journal JAMA Network Open on Tuesday.