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Preterm Birth, Poor Fetal Growth Linked With Increased Depression Risk

December 01, 2020

Girls born earlier than 28 weeks gestational age have triple the likelihood of being diagnosed with depression, compared with girls born closer to their expected delivery date, suggests a study published online in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Girls and boys born full-term and post-term but with poor fetal growth also have an increased depression risk, researchers found. 

“The study highlights the need for preventive interventions for high-risk infants and support programs for parental mental health during pregnancy and neonatal care, especially for extremely preterm infants and growth-retarded full-term infants,” said researcher Subina Upadhyaya, MPH, of the Research Center for Child Psychiatry, University of Turku, Finland. “Follow-up care practices should include psychosocial screening and developmental testing for children born preterm and their families, with appropriate support for sound mental health.”

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The study included 37,682 children born in Finland between January 1987 and December 2007 who were diagnosed with depression. Researchers compared them with 148,795 children without depression who served as matched controls. Analyses were adjusted for parental age and psychopathology, paternal immigrant status, maternal substance abuse, depression, number of previous births, marital status, socioeconomic status, smoking during pregnancy, and infant birthplace.

According to the study, girls born extremely preterm were at increased risk of being diagnosed with depression from age 5 through 25. Poor fetal growth in full-term infants and post-term infants, especially boys, was also linked with a greater depression risk.

“Future studies should examine the risk associated with preterm birth and infant long-term outcomes in the present era of family-centered neonatal care practices,” Upadhyaya advised.

—Jolynn Tumolo


Upadhyaya S, Sourander A, Luntamo T, et al. Preterm birth is associated with depression from childhood to early adulthood. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 2020 October 14;[Epub ahead of print].

Children born extremely preterm are more likely to be diagnosed with depression [press release]. Turku, Finland: University of Turku; November 12, 2020.

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