Mother's Depression Linked to Childhood Respiratory Illnesses

Stress and depression in expectant and new mothers are risk factors for more childhood respiratory illnesses in early life, and maternal depression is associated with a non-allergic asthma type of childhood asthma. These findings suggest that reducing stress and depression in expectant and new mothers in low-income urban populations could reduce childhood colds and non-atopic asthma.

The NIH-funded Inner City Asthma Consortium initiated the URECA (Urban Environment and Childhood Asthma) birth cohort to identify which exposures in early life, including maternal stress and depression, are related to the development of childhood allergies and asthma.

Varieties of Wheezing

Childhood asthma is a syndrome consisting of different varieties (“phenotypes”) of asthma that may have distinct causes. By analyzing the first seven years of data in URECA, Bacharier and colleagues previously showed that maternal stress and depression were both associated with a high-wheeze, low-atopy (HW-LA) respiratory phenotype.

URECA investigators recently updated the respiratory phenotypes to include wheezing, allergy, and lung function data collected from birth through age ten years.

In a recent issue of The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI), Sima K. Ramratnam and colleagues tested whether maternal stress and depression in early life are associated with the non-atopic wheezing respiratory phenotype at ten years of age.

Early Childhood Asthma

In addition, the investigators tested whether this relationship was mediated by stress and depression effects on infections, allergies, or lung function.

The study found that maternal depression in early life was positively associated with wheezing phenotypes and these relationships were strongest for the moderate wheeze-low atopy (MW-LA) group.

They also identified a relationship between cumulative maternal stress and depression scores and increased childhood respiratory illnesses during the first three years of life.

There were no significant associations between maternal stress and depression and children’s lung function, and some inverse associations with allergic sensitization.

Source: Ramratnam SK, et al. "Maternal stress and depression are associated with respiratory phenotypes in urban children." The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 10 March 2021


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