Maternal Prenatal Depressive Symptoms and Fetal Growth During the Critical Rapid Growth Stage

Lu Zhang, Robin Sun, Chiara Nosarti, Zhenmi Liu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Importance Fetal growth in the critical rapid growth stage (CRGS) before delivery, approximately between 30 to 37 gestational weeks, carries significant implications for subsequent overweight, obesity, and arterial health. Previous evidence has demonstrated the association between maternal depressive symptoms and fetal growth trajectories from early to late pregnancy, but there remains limited understanding of the association of these symptoms with the longitudinal fetal growth change within the CRGS.

Objective To investigate the association between maternal depressive symptoms and fetal growth during the CRGS before delivery.

Design, Setting, and Participants This prospective birth cohort study was conducted from January 2018 to December 2020. Volunteer pregnant women were enrolled in their first trimester of prenatal visits. Women with severe disease before pregnancy and multiple births, fetuses with congenital anomalies, and preterm or postterm births were excluded. This multicenter study was based in 13 hospitals covering 81 counties across 12 cities in Sichuan Province, China. Follow-up visits were performed at the second trimester, the third trimester, and 24 hours after delivery. The analysis was conducted from January to May 2023.

Exposures Maternal depressive symptoms, as a continuous variable, measured by the Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Scale (EPDS) at a median gestational week of 24 (range, 14 to 27) weeks of gestation. A higher score on the EPDS indicates worse depressive symptoms.

Main Outcomes and Measures The main outcomes included ultrasonography-measured biparietal diameter (BPD), femur length (FL), and abdominal circumference (AC), along with calculated estimated fetal weight (EFW). These parameters were evaluated longitudinally at a median gestational week of 30 (range, 28 to 32) and 37 (range, 35 to 39) weeks. Linear mixed models were used to estimate the associations between maternal depressive symptoms and fetal growth parameters.

Results A total of 2676 mother-offspring dyads were included, in which the mean (SD) age of mothers was 28.0 (4.4) years, and 1294 (48.4%) of the offspring were female. The median (IQR) maternal EPDS score was 5.0 (4.0 to 9.0). After adjustment for confounders, a significant correlation was found between a higher score of depressive symptoms in mothers and a slower rate of fetal growth across FL (β = −0.40; 95% CI, −0.58 to −0.22), AC (β = −1.97; 95% CI, −2.90 to −1.03), and EFW (β = −50.11; 95% CI, −68.46 to −31.75). These associations were stronger in female fetuses or those with better family socioeconomic conditions.

Conclusions and Relevance In this prospective cohort study, maternal depressive symptoms were associated with slower fetal growth rate in the CRGS before delivery. Early screening for depressive disorders in pregnant women appears to be essential for fetal growth and later health.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2346018
JournalJAMA Network open
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2023


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