Antepartum Depression and Preterm Birth: Pathophysiology, Epidemiology, and Disparities due to structural racism

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Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2021 Feb 25;23(3):14. doi: 10.1007/s11920-021-01223-1.


PURPOSE OF REVIEW: Informed by the evidence of links between physiology of stress and parturition, we review recent epidemiologic evidence (2015-2020) of antenatal depression as a risk factor for preterm birth (PTB). We also explain racial/ethnic disparities in depression and preterm birth as a consequence of structural racism.

RECENT FINDINGS: Epidemiologic evidence is consistent in linking antepartum depression with an elevated risk of PTB. Antidepressant usage has been linked with an elevated risk of PTB. However, recent evidence suggests that severity of depression is the underlying driver of the elevated risk attributed to antidepressant usage. The number of depressive symptoms, as a proxy for severity of maternal stress, may be a more informative predictor of PTB than criterion based predictors. Across various study designs, measurement modalities, and populations, antenatal depression predicts an elevated risk of delivering preterm. The physiology of stress provides a plausible explanation for this observation. Excessive stress-induced elevations in maternal and then fetal HPA hormones can alter maternal and fetal homeostasis and hasten the timing of parturition. Antenatal depression and exposure to structural racism are two stressors that can trigger the maternal stress response. Chronically elevated levels of stress hormones among women of color in the USA provide a likely physiologic explanation for Black-White disparities in the risk of PTB. Focusing on the number of depressive symptoms as the more informative predictor of PTB raises several questions. We consider these questions as well as directions for future research in the context of recent advances in the field.

PMID:33630175 | DOI:10.1007/s11920-021-01223-1