Maternal Hypertensive Disorders and Mental Health

In the United States, the month of May is both Preeclampsia Awareness and Mental Health Awareness Month. We can acknowledge, even from the surface level, that mental stress and pregnancy are not the best combination.

According to the March of Dimes, “High levels of stress that continue for a long time may cause health problems, like high blood pressure and heart disease. During pregnancy, stress can increase the chances of having a baby who is preterm (born before 37 weeks of pregnancy) or a low-birthweight baby(weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces). Babies born too soon or too small are at increased risk for health problems.”

Several factors, both social and physiological, impact stress during pregnancy. A 2021 publication in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pregnancy Hypertension and Its Association with Maternal Anxiety and Mood Disorders, found “mental disorders showed increasing trends among pregnant women – with anxiety showing the greatest increase rates”.

Additional research data has revealed the impact of maternal hypertensive disorders on the mental health of the mother and such risk factors for the birthed child. In 2020, the American Heart Association published an article in their Hypertension journal report entitled Maternal Hypertesive Disorders May Lead to Mental Health Disorders in Children. The authors referenced a Finnish study of 4,743 mother-child pairs found associations between hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and childhood mental disorders. The study found that 66% of higher risk mental disorders among children whose mothers had preeclampsia.

“The findings emphasize the need for preventive interventions and treatments for maternal hypertensive disorders, since such interventions have the potential to benefit both the well-being of the expectant mother and her offspring,” he said. “The findings also shed important new light on the etiology of childhood mental disorders. This information may help in targeting preventive interventions and support for families at risk, and aid clinicians in understanding issues and the underlying causes of childhood mental disorders.”

The connection between hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, like preeclampsia, and mental health status is seen in the data – both for the mother and child(ren). Connecting women and families with tools to engage and better manage their health is a critical pathway towards better outcomes. Organizations like Postpartum Support International (PSI) have established resources and a call to action to address the undiagnosed and untreated perinatal mental health disorders. Their Mind The Gap program is a national action plan focused on this silent crisis in the US.

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