Children of depressed mothers in developing countries are 40% more likely to be underweight or stunted than those with mothers in good mental health, a study said.
An estimated 15% to 57% of mothers in poor countries experience depression due to poverty, marital conflict, domestic violence and a lack of control over economic resources, it said.
"Our analysis revealed a positive and significant association between maternal depression or depressive symptoms and impaired child growth in developing countries," said the analysis published in the monthly Bulletin of the World Health Organization (WHO).
More serious growth deficits were found in children of mothers with more severe depression, it said.
Children's growth affects their height as adults
The analysis was based on 17 studies of nearly 14,000 mothers and their small children carried out in Africa, Asia, and South America and the Caribbean. They included cases in Brazil, India and Nigeria.
"Now we have a critical mass of 17 studies from developing countries. This is the first time it has been quantitatively summarised," lead researcher Pamela Surkan of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told Reuters.
The WHO did not provide comparative data for maternal depression in developed countries.
Inadequate growth in childhood can result in reduced height as an adult, low educational performance, reduced productivity and greater risk of disease, according to the study.
Mental depression increases with poor child growth
"Maternal depression is associated with less responsive care giving and a lower likelihood or shorter duration of breastfeeding," Surkan said in a statement.
But depression can be affordably treated in developing countries through social support, group therapy or home visits, often delivered by lay community workers, the study said.
These have helped reduce maternal depressive symptoms in China, Jamaica, Pakistan, South Africa and Uganda, it said.
There may be a reciprocal relationship between the mother's mental health and the child's health, the study said. A child's poor health may generate depressive symptoms in the mother.
"Subsequent research should investigate the possibility that poor child growth increases the risk of maternal depression," it said.
(Reuters Health, August 2011)