prenatal depressionI know we all like to pretend that parenting is actually an equal and shared experience, but a new study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences proves that women always have more responsibility for the well-being of their children.  In this case, with more responsibility, comes more guilt.

Moms-to-be – you better cheer up.  As if pregnancy wasn’t daunting enough, now we know that if you succumb to prenatal depression your child’s linguistic skills will suffer.  So be sure to add, “put on a happy face” to your endless list of pregnancy tasks.

No coffee, no booze, no smoking.  No deli meat or sushi or good pain relievers.  A slow, gradual, weight gain that has you wondering if your body will ever resemble itself again.  Add to that the stress of expanding your family – and it’s a wonder that every pregnant woman doesn’t go through some sort of depression.  Now this depression can become just a little more crippling when we realize that if we don’t perk up, our babies’ linguistic super-powers will falter.

Babies are born ready to learn any language in the world, and they have linguistic super-powers that many adults don’t.

For instance at six months old, they can distinguish between sounds in different languages that non-bilinguals hear as the same, such as an English “d” and a Hindi “d.” They can also tell if someone is English or French without sound based on the mouth shapes of the speaker and rhythms. Only bilinguals retain these abilities throughout life.  But around 10 months old, babies typically stop being able to make these distinctions.

Pretty amazing, right?  Unfortunately, prenatal depression in mothers can stop this natural born super-power in its tracks:

Researchers found that depression and antidepressants did seem to make a difference in terms of when the babies showed sensitivity to different languages.

The babies in the control group, whose mothers did not have depression, performed as expected: They tended to succeed in language discrimination tasks at 6 months old and failed at 10 months old.

But the infants whose mothers had depression (but were not taking antidepressants) failed at 6 months and succeeded at 10 months. That means their critical period for language sensitivity was delayed.

Interestingly, the infants whose mothers were taking antidepressants failed both times. It appears that they were more “advanced” than both groups, in the sense that the language sensitivity window had already passed.

Once again, damned if you do, damned if you don’t.  It seems the solution here is just don’t get depressed.  We all know that isn’t possible.  But if you do get depressed, you better just suffer through it because taking any medication to help the way you feel will hinder baby even more than the effects of having a depressed mom.

It’s studies like these that make me believe that moms always have it harder.  I’m not discounting a father’s role in parenting, but the pressure and guilt associated with being the perfect specimen so you can breed the perfect specimen is exhausting.

(photo: Michel Borges/ Shutterstock)