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Mother's Mental Health an Important Factor in Child Malnutrition - 2004-04-21

A mothers' mental health is an overlooked factor in child malnutrition, according to an article in the British Medical Journal.

More than half of the world's malnourished children live in South Asia and studies there show high rates of depression among new mothers. Other studies show a strong link between malnourished children and depressed mothers.

The authors of the Journal article said that the reasons can be evident even before the child is born. Depressed mothers are more likely to smoke or abuse alcohol and are less likely to seek health care during pregnancy.

Vikram Patel of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is the study's author.

"The more obvious reasons, really, are after the baby is born," he said. "I say obvious because depressed mothers need to look after their babies just in the same way as non-depressed mothers, but the depression robs them of many of the abilities to mother."

Dr. Patel said that new mothers always feel tired, but depression makes them feel even more so. Depression also makes it harder for them to respond to babies' signals that it's time to feed them. He added that women's low status in South Asian society is a likely factor in the high rates of depression among new mothers. Dr. Patel believes more support from husbands, families, and communities would help remedy this problem.