Taking An Epidural To Ease Labor Pains May Reduce Likelihood Of Postpartum Depression In Some Women


Women using epidural anesthesia during childbirth are less likely to experience postpartum depression, reports a recent study.

Epidural analgesia is administrated in women in the lower back during childbirth to relieve pain by numbing the region above and below the injection site. Since the drug numbs only the particular part of the body the mother remains conscious throughout the delivery.

Epidurals can be used both for C-section and vaginal birth. The injection administrated in the epidural space of the spine numbs the pelvic area, legs, chest and abdomen.

Dr. Grace Lim, the lead author of the study and the director of obstetric anesthesiology at Magee Women's Hospital, said that labor pain not only gives a woman an exclusive childbirth experience but has a huge role to play in inducing psychological problems like postpartum depression.

According to the study findings, women who experienced good relief in pain from epidurals during delivery also have a reduced risk of postpartum depression, noted Lim.

It is also noted in the report that the research was controlled for various factors like anxiety, pre-existing history of depression and post-delivery pain caused by tissue damage that predispose women to postpartum depression.

Doing so, it was observed in the study that labor pain attributed to an increased risk of postpartum depression in some women. Given that, managing labor pain effectively could help in reducing the risk of depression in women after childbirth.

For the purpose of the study, the researchers analyzed the medical records of 201 women who were administered an epidural during delivery and had their pain measured using a 0-10 scale. The percent improvement in pain after administration of epidural analgesia during labor was also assessed.

The risk of depression was also measured after six weeks of delivery using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. It was observed that the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale scores were lower when the percent improvement in pain during childbirth was higher.

"Although we found an association between women who experience less pain during labor and lower risk for postpartum depression, we do not know if effective pain control with epidural analgesia will assure avoidance of the condition," said Lim in a press release.

Postpartum Depression Risk

Lim noted that other than labor pain, problems like lack of social support, hormonal changes in the body, pre-existing psychiatric disorders and psychological issues in relation to adaptation to motherhood could result in postpartum depression.

The investigators also clarified that though the study sheds light on the benefits of epidurals in alleviating labor pain and postpartum depression, further researches are needed to identify which women are more likely to benefit from pain-control strategies during delivery.

The paper was presented at 2016 Anesthesiology annual meeting on Oct. 26.

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