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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Women with anxiety disorders may be more likely to have babies who cry excessively, suggests a new German study.
Researchers already know that the children of women with anxiety disorders are more prone to develop anxiety themselves, according to Johanna Petzoldt. She led the current study at the Institute of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy at Dresden University of Technology.
“We found a relationship between maternal anxiety disorders prior to, during and after pregnancy, thus, mothers with prior anxiety disorders might represent a specific risk group for having an infant that will cry excessively,” Petzoldt told Reuters Health in an email.
“Early identification and monitoring of mothers with prior anxiety disorders could be an opportunity to support mother-infant dyads at risk,” she said.
For the new study, Petzoldt and her colleagues enrolled 286 women who were early in their pregnancies.
The women were 28 years old, on average. About 63 percent of them were unmarried and 59 percent were pregnant for the first time.
At the beginning of the study, the researchers asked the women about any depressive or anxiety symptoms they had and when those symptoms started. Then they checked in with the women every other month until their babies were four months old and again one year later.
In the interviews that took place after the babies were born, 29 mothers reported that their infants cried excessively. Excessive crying was defined as crying that lasts three or more hours per day, at least three days per week for a duration of three weeks or longer.
The researchers found that women who had an anxiety disorder before becoming pregnant were more likely to have a baby that cried excessively compared with women without an anxiety disorder.
That was also the case when including women who developed an anxiety disorder during pregnancy or after giving birth, according to results published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.
Unlike in previous studies, the researchers did not find a clear association between maternal depression and excessive crying among infants.
The study doesn’t prove women’s anxiety caused their babies to cry more - only that there was a link between the two. And the reasons for the association still aren’t clear.
More research is needed to learn more about maternal anxiety and depression and infant crying, Petzoldt said.
“Women can have anxiety or depression during pregnancy and it can have negative consequences for the baby,” psychiatrist Dr. Ariela Frieder told Reuters Health.
“It's very important to take an active stance to treat it. That can change the outcome and can really help the baby to do better,” she said.
Frieder, from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Women’s Health at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, wasn’t involved in the new study.
She said women who are pregnant and believe they may have anxiety should tell their OB/GYN and the doctor can refer them to the appropriate mental health professionals. Talk therapy could be one option for treatment.
In an editorial published with the study, Dr. Harriet Hiscock said there is no doubt that a mother’s mood can impact her baby’s behavior and vice versa.
Hiscock, from the University of Melbourne in Australia, agreed that more research is needed to confirm the current findings.
But in the meantime, she wrote that doctors can talk to women about anxiety and its perceived impact on their parenting style and on their infant, as long as professional support is available if needed.
“This needs to be done sensitively as the last thing we need to do is add to a mother’s ‘day of worry’ by blaming her for her infant’s crying,” Hiscock wrote.