Moms With Postpartum Depression Have Shorter Kids? Not So Fast!

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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.

Photo credit: © mangostock – Fotolia.com 

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About Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

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Comments

  1. Yeah. Ridiculous. Let’s find the $ they use on these B.S. studies and dedicate it to education and awareness initiatives for peer support and healthcare professionals.

  2. I had a extremely severe case of PPD, and my son is still in the 99%ile for height.

  3. Such BS! My personal “study” of 2 kiddos shows that kids of moms with depression are above the 90th percentile. Wow, now I’m a scientist. ;)

  4. In the abstract of the study, the researchers conclude that early detection and treatment of PPD could help avoid growth problems among children with depressed mother, if there is in fact a correlation. I agree that the media’s presentation of this story can result in moms unnecessarily feeling guilty, and that the limitations of the study are not sufficiently disclosed. However, I appreciate the idea behind the study itself. We need pediatricians to understand that PPD is a serious issue that does affect the health and well-being of their patients – the children – and that they need to be partners in raising awareness, in screening, and in connecting parents with treatment options.

    • Jessica, I agree that both physicians and the public need to know about the adverse effects of untreated PPD. Without question. I just think the way this study was reported, and the severe limitations it has, is a problem.

  5. I had PPD and my son has always been in the 95th% for height.

  6. Thank you for responding to this news story! I was shocked when I saw it on Yahoo news.

  7. Thank you for this article! And my son has always been in the lower percentile. Guess what, me and my husband are both 5’5″ and I’m “slim” according to our pediatrician. My son is fine.

    I also have to agree that there needs to be awareness, education, compassion, etc. for moms and kids, that way it’s not an issue.

  8. I just feel sorry for my kids – not because of my PPD with DD four years ago (& not after my DS 16mths ago) – but because of their genetics. I’m already teaching them how to ask for help in the grocery store to reach the top shelf & to do the stealth ‘jump & grab’ trick. I look at them with such hope in their eyes & then look at myself & who I married & had children with & it’s just not fair.
    Maybe there is just nothing going on in the world worthy of airtime so they decided to air this BS out!

  9. I certainly can’t agree with this study. I suffered from PPP/PPD and my son was always in 95th percentile in height. Think genetics play a much greater role in height than this study indicates.

  10. Philip's Mama says:

    Totally unreasonable! I am currently fighting my way through PPD/PPA, and my son is in the 98th percentile for height. I am so thankful to report that my illness has had no impact on him whatsoever (my OCD kicks in here, where I’m constantly seeking reassurance in this regard from every medical provider in our lives) from what our pediatrician, my therapist, or anyone else can see. He is happy, healthy (skinny, but eats a small truckload at every meal), bonded to me (and other family members), and TALL! What I find unfortunate is that they’re wasting money on studies on how PPD impacts height (something that is fairly inconsequential), instead of things that PPD impacts that are of much greater importance. There’s my two cents for the day! Happy Monday to all of you beautiful Warrior Moms out there!