Baby heartbeat reveals the stress of having a depressed or a
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Scientists have shown that the babies of mothers dealing with anxiety or depression exhibit physiologically stronger signs of stress than babies of healthy mothers, when given a standard stress test. These babies show a significantly increased heart rate, which researchers fear may lead to imprinted emotional stresses as the child grows up.

The interaction of mother and infant, especially in the early months of life, plays a huge role in healthy development. Some mothers, particularly those suffering from mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, or post-natal depression, have difficulties regulating infant's negative affection, which is believed to create insecurities in the children as they grow older. Mood disorders (such as (irritability, changing moods, mild depression) are common during the pregnancy and the postpartum period, occurring in 10-20% of women.

The effect of "emotionally distant" mothers for infants was demonstrated in the famous "Still Face Test"; mothers were asked to playfully interact with their babies, and then spend a period where they "blank" all interaction, before resuming normal contact. During the second phase (Still-Face episode) babies showed heightened negative emotionality as well as a reduction of social engagement and avoiding behaviours.

In a preliminary finding, researchers have shown that during the period where the mother withdraws attention, babies of anxious or depressed mothers had a significant rise in heart rate, on average 8 beats per minute more than that of the babies of healthy mothers. These babies were also classified by their mothers as having a more difficult temperament than healthy babies. This may feed into other physiological stress systems leading to imprinted psychological problems. It was found that if a mother was anxious or depressed, their baby had a more sensitive physiological response to stress during the test than did the babies of healthy mothers.

This work means that it is important to diagnose and treat depressive and anxiety disorders in new mothers, because it has an immediate impact on the stress system of the baby. Most postpartum mood disorders start during, or even before pregnancy, and early diagnosis is therefore important.