Neurobiology and Impact of Perinatal Depression by Professor Anne Buist

Posted on: July 16, 2019
Last Updated: July 16, 2019

Prof Anne Buist is the Chair of Women’s Mental Health at the University of Melbourne. Anne has more than 30 years clinical and research experience in perinatal psychiatry and works with the legal system in cases of abuse, kidnapping, infanticide and murder. Her work has had direct implications for clinical care as well as assisting in advising government and health services to ensure good outcomes.

Author Quotes  

Ultimately early intervention seems to be the thing that stands out as what you need to do.

These children who were born to particularly anxious but also depressed mums were born with altered stress reactions, with higher cortisol at birth, and this seemed to be a marker for their later risk, particularly for anxiety and depression.

Women with abuse histories do tend to be the group that doesn’t do so well with depression generally, but particularly also with postnatal depression. It increases the risk and increases the risk for their children as well.

Summary and slides  

Professor Buist begins this segment by discussing treatment options that were available in the 1990s, but ultimately these did not show long-term potential. 

She describes early intervention as a positive predictor of outcomes for women with perinatal depression. 

She goes on to discuss advances in our understanding of the biology of perinatal depression. In one study, women with perinatal depression were followed for 25 years; this allowed researchers to see the long-term impact on children, who themselves were at higher risk of mental health issues. She highlights that researchers are now looking at the placenta.  

She then discusses adverse childhood events as a risk factor for postnatal depression, and the biological pathways involved. She says the link between transmission of risk of mental health issues from mother to child and attachment vs biology is not yet fully understood. 

Professor Buist discusses the internalising and externalising issues that children from depressed mothers have. She reiterates the link between biological factors and stress and anxiety in mothers and their offspring and the gender differences found, with female babies being more likely to adapt in utero. 

She completes this segment by saying that risk factors for children are not only mental but physical as well. 

Take-Home Points  

  • Children born to women with perinatal depression are born with higher cortisol levels and altered stress reactions. 
  • Children born to women with perinatal depression are at higher risk of mental health issues in childhood and into adulthood. 
  • The vascularisation and enzyme activity of the placenta is altered in stressed mums. 
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