Teenage pregnancy is considered a major concern, for these young mothers are prone to increased risk for becoming depressed. And the behavioral problem in these young mothers is related to later psychiatric or behavioral problems in some of their offspring.
Researchers led by Dr. Azar. John H. Krystal, M.D., Editor of Biological Psychiatry and affiliated with both Yale University School of Medicine and the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, found that a lifetime history of major depression in the mother and maternal overcontrol were associated with an increased release of the stress hormone, cortisol, in the infants following mild stress exposure.
Dr. Azar said that the findings add to the "small but growing body of knowledge on neurobiological differences in stress responses between infants of depressed and non-depressed mothers."
"Teenage mothers and their offspring are both, in their own ways, vulnerable. As a result, teenage pregnancy is thought to be a setting for preventative educational programs that might help teenagers better cope with their upcoming challenges," he said.
"We do not yet know the long-term consequences of maternal 'overcontrol', but should it prove to have negative long-term effects, it is conceivable that this type of behavior might be targeted in preventive educational programs.
"Practically, the open question is that of the long-term effects: are these infants at increased risk for psychological or physical stress-related illnesses later in life. If so, why? "Given that the adrenocortical system is known to be plastic and hence easily influenced in both positive and negative ways, we believe that it is very important to eventually identify which of these babies are more vulnerable to stress," he concluded.
The infants of mothers with a history of depression had also had lower pre-stress cortisol levels. Also, there was a correlation in the cortisol levels between mothers and their infants.
The study was published in Biological Psychiatry on September 15.