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Maternal Depression Left Untreated May Affect Infant's Language Acquisition Skills

Update Date: Oct 10, 2012 10:19 AM EDT

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that treatment of maternal depression with serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) can accelerate babies' ability to attune to the sounds and sights of their native language.

"This study is among the first to show how maternal depression and its treatment can change the timing of language development in babies," explains Prof. Janet Werker of UBC's Dept. of Psychology, the study's senior author in a statement to the University of British Columbia .

"At this point, we do not know if accelerating or delaying these milestones in development has lasting consequences on later language acquisition, or if alternate developmental pathways exist. We aim to explore these and other important questions in future studies."

In a study that followed three groups of mothers, the first being treated for depression with SRIs, one taking no antidepressants though who have been proven to have depression, and the last group of women who show no symptoms of depression, researchers found that the  key developmental period  where infants rapidly attune to the language sounds they hear and the sights they see (movements in the face that accompany talking) of their native languages can be accelerated or delayed by several months depending on whether or not the mother during the prenatal period seeks medicinal help for depression symptoms or not.

 Werker has found that this development period lasts longer for babies in bilingual households than in monolingual babies, particularly for the face recognition aspects of speech.

These findings once again remind us that poor mental health during pregnancy is a major public health issue for mothers and their infants," says co-author Dr. Tim Oberlander, a professor of developmental pediatrics at UBC and CFRI. "Non-treatment is never an option."

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