Mental Health Day: Maternal Depression Affects Language Development in Infants

Updated at: Oct 10, 2012
Mental Health Day: Maternal Depression Affects Language Development in Infants

Maternal depression affects a baby’s period of language acquisition.

Gunjan Rastogi
LatestWritten by: Gunjan RastogiPublished at: Oct 10, 2012

Maternal Depression Affects Language Development in Infants

In a study conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia, Harvard University and the Child & Family Research Institute (CFRI), it was revealed that maternal depression can adversely affect the language development phase in babies. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on 8 October , which was considered as the second day of Mental Health Week.


Read: Holistic Treatment for Depression


The study has found that use of serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs), a class of antidepressants accelerates a baby’s ability to perceive and comprehend the sights and sounds of his native language whereas non-use of SRIs for maternal depression can delay the crucial period of language learning.

The findings of the study were based on the three groups:

  • one group treated for depression with SRI
  • one group without being treated with SRI
  • one group with no signs of depression.


The panel of researchers measured changes in the heart rate and eye movements of the babies when exposed to the sounds and sights of native and non-native language. The results were documented in three different stages: at 36 weeks of pregnancy, at six months after the birth and finally, when babies turned ten-months-old.

The study throws light on the importance of environmental factors that affect a newborn’s learning and cognitive development while maintaining that maternal well-being is crucial for an infant’s overall health, said Wrecker, professor of psychology at UBC and study's senior author. He further said that the study is the one of the first to show how maternal depression and its treatment can affect a baby’s  language acquisition.


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