Pregnancy Health Tied to Language Development in Babies

Depression and Pregnancy Health

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Whether you’ve previously been pregnant or this is your first time, you’re probably going to great lengths to ensure pregnancy health. But are you taking care of your emotional and mental health? The physical well-being of the fetus is closely tied to your pregnancy health. But now, a recent study has linked maternal mental health to the child’s language acquisition. Researchers have found that depression during pregnancy can negatively impact a baby’s early language development.

Pregnancy Health Study

The study was published in the October, 2012 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers evaluated three groups of mothers. The first group of mothers exhibited no signs of depression, while the second group had depression during pregnancy that was not treated with antidepressants. The third group of mothers had depression during pregnancy and took serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs), a type of antidepressant.

After the mothers gave birth, the researchers administered tests to the babies at three different intervals, such as when the infants were six and 10 months old. The tests measured the infants’ heart rate and eye movement responses to language stimuli, both in their native and non-native languages. Additionally, the researchers evaluated the heart rate responses of 36-week-old fetuses in the womb to language stimuli. Nearly half of the mothers of those fetuses were being treated with antidepressants.

Pregnancy Health - Depression

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The Results

The researchers found that babies born to mothers with untreated depression during pregnancy had a less developed ability to “attune to the sounds of their native language.” These infants’ language development was delayed. On the other hand, babies born to mothers who treated their depression displayed an accelerated ability to acquire language.


This study highlights the importance of pregnancy health – both physical and mental. However, it’s also important to remember that the study’s lead researcher, Prof. Janet Werker of the University of British Columbia, notes that the study does not shed any light on whether these language delays or language accelerations will have a long-term impact on the child’s speech and language skills. As well, the study only examined the effects of a certain classification of antidepressant. In the future, the researchers hope to expand the study to evaluate the potential effects other types of antidepressants on prenatal depression.

Ensuring Pregnancy Health

That being said, there’s certainly no harm in taking some extra steps to ensure pregnancy health. In addition to working with your doctor to develop a healthy eating plan, consider taking some steps to boost your mental health. If you believe that you may have depression or that you may be at risk for it, seek counseling. Psychotherapy and/or antidepressants may be beneficial. Reach out to your loved ones and talk about your anxieties.

As well, talk to your doctor about taking a fish oil supplement. The fatty acids found in fish are linked to so many health benefits, from building a strong immune system to combating depression. And if you do find out, later in your child’s life, that he might have a speech or language delay, consult a speech-language pathologist.

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