postpartum depression height shortIt was all over the news this week.

NBC News – Depressed Moms Might Have Shorter Kids, New Study Suggests

Huffington Post – Postpartum Depression Linked to Shorter Children

Time Healthland – Moms’ Depression May Lead to Shorter Kids

CBS News – Kids of Moms Who Had Postpartum Depression More Likely to Be Short by Age 5

PsychCentral – Mom’s Depression Linked to Shorter Kids (really, Psych Central? You, too?)

MedLine Plus – Postpartum Depression May Lead to Shorter Kids

This line in particular, from the MedLine Plus article, made my head explode: “What it comes down to is a kind of neglect,” she added.

A study by researchers at Johns Hopkins found that moms with postpartum depression have shorter kids.  And like any piece of research about postpartum depression, especially one that’s negative, news of the study spread like wildfire across the media.

It’s not like moms with PPD don’t have enough to worry about as it is. We’re already drowning in guilt, thank you very much. We know that if our postpartum depression or anxiety remains untreated that our children may suffer certain consequences. But height? Really? We’re making our kids shorter?

I hardly think it was necessary to jump all over this story so quickly. And yes, I know many of the reporters used qualifying words. May. Could. Correlation or association. Still, readers and viewers read the news as: Moms with PPD make their kids short. And not just shorter, but especially short: “5-year-olds with moms who’d suffered symptoms of postpartum depression were almost 50 percent more likely than their peers to be in the shortest 10 percent of kids that age.” 50%! The shortest 10%!

I called BS right away, but since I’m not a scientist I felt it was important to get reaction about the study from people who KNOW what they’re talking about when it comes to postpartum depression research: expert physicians, scientists and reproductive psychiatrists Marlene Freeman, MD, of the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Women’s Mental Health, and Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, of the University of North Carolina Center for Women’s Mood Disorders.

Dr. Freeman hadn’t had a chance to see the study yet, but said she found it hard to believe any factor would “trump parental height in determination of kids’ height.” She explained that if you look for a lot, you are more likely to find something statistically significant by chance.

Dr. Meltzer-Brody was able to review the study, which had been published in the journal Pediatrics. Here is her response after having the chance to take a look at it:

“There are many SIGNIFICANT limitations to the study that make the results very difficult to take with more than half a grain of salt.  Although the study’s authors acknowledge the long list of limitations, they still make really bold conclusions that are frankly, much too grand in my opinion.
Here is my list of concerns….
  1. There is no data on or assessment of maternal mood during pregnancy or prior to the nine month postpartum mark. Thus, it is really difficult to know how much of this is related to longstanding maternal mood issues, pregnancy issues etc.
  2. There is no assessment of maternal or paternal weight or body mass, nor an assessment of whether the child’s height is similar to the parents’s height (i.e. Are some of the kids short because the parents are short?).
  3. No data on infant birth length.
  4. There is no data on feeding modes.
  5. A large percentage of the population sampled in the study is poor and of low socioeconomic status. There is insufficient info about how that status impacts the growth of the child.
  6. “Mild depressive symptoms” do not constitute postpartum depression.  I don’t even know what to make of “mild” symptoms, that’s not a clinical diagnosis.
  7. What about trauma and abuse contributing?  Many low-income women have high rates of abuse, PTSD, etc. and all of this could play a role on development—including during pregnancy and postpartum etc.
In the study there was no assessment of paternal HEIGHT! This is a huge limitation in my opinion, in other words what percentage of the parents are less than 10% for height too? Bottom line, I am not making much of this report.”

I also talked to therapist and PPD expert Karen Kleiman, who runs the Postpartum Stress Center and has written many books on the topic, and she responded that she hadn’t seen any evidence of this. “Children of postpartum depression moms are not being malnourished,” Kleiman said. “If they were, there would be far more problems than short stature.”

So, there you have it ladies. I know you have enough to worry about already. Don’t waste too much time adding your child’s height to the list.

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