Background: Approximately one-third of pregnant and postnatal women in Ethiopia experience depression posing a substantial health burden for these women and their families. Although associations between postnatal depression and worse infant health have been observed, there have been no studies to date assessing the causal effects of perinatal depression on infant health in Ethiopia. We applied longitudinal data and recently developed causal inference methods that reduce the risk of bias to estimate associations between perinatal depression and infant diarrhea, Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI), and malnutrition in Gondar Town, Ethiopia.
Methods: A cohort of 866 mother-infant dyads were followed from infant birth for 6 months and the cumulative incidence of ARI, diarrhea, and malnutrition were assessed. The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) was used to assess the presence of maternal depression, the Integrated Management of Newborn and Childhood Illnesses (IMNCI) guidelines were used to identify infant ARI and diarrhea, and the mid upper arm circumference (MUAC) was used to identify infant malnutrition. The risk difference (RD) due to maternal depression for each outcome was estimated using targeted maximum likelihood estimation (TMLE), a doubly robust causal inference method used to reduce bias in observational studies.
Results: The cumulative incidence of diarrhea, ARI and malnutrition during 6-month follow-up was 17.0% (95%CI: 14.5, 19.6), 21.6% (95%CI: 18.89, 24.49), and 14.4% (95%CI: 12.2, 16.9), respectively. There was no association between antenatal depression and ARI (RD = − 1.3%; 95%CI: − 21.0, 18.5), diarrhea (RD = 0.8%; 95%CI: − 9.2, 10.9), or malnutrition (RD = -7.3%; 95%CI: − 22.0, 21.8). Similarly, postnatal depression was not associated with diarrhea (RD = -2.4%; 95%CI: − 9.6, 4.9), ARI (RD = − 3.2%; 95%CI: − 12.4, 5.9), or malnutrition (RD = 0.9%; 95%CI: − 7.6, 9.5).
Conclusion: There was no evidence for an association between perinatal depression and the risk of infant diarrhea, ARI, and malnutrition amongst women in Gondar Town. Previous reports suggesting increased risks resulting from maternal depression may be due to unobserved confounding.