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Postpartum depression and childbirth fears link discovered

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Experts say that a history of depression can increase one's risk for postpartum depression, but a new study shows that fear of childbirth may also predispose some women to the condition.

According to a paper published in the journal BMJ Open, apprehensions of childbirth may increase the risk of postpartum depression about threefold in women who have never been treated for depression, and fivefold in women with known depressive disease.

Postpartum depression is a form of moderate to severe depression that some women experience in the first few months after birth. ""The consequences of postpartum depression may be severe. For example, postpartum depression may affect the mother's abilities and skills to engage in delicate interaction with the child, and thus impair the development of an attachment relationship - possibly affecting the child's later development and well-being," the researchers said.

The conclusion of the study is based on a review of birth and health registers in Finland. The researchers analyzed data from 511,422 births that occurred between 2002 and 2010 across the nation and found that 1,438 or 0.3 percent of the new moms were diagnosed with postpartum depression within the time frame.

The analysis showed that 5.3 percent of women with known depression problems were diagnosed with postpartum depression, while approximately one-third of those without history of melancholy showed symptoms of the condition.

"As expected ... two-thirds of all cases occurred in women with a history of depressive symptoms before or during pregnancy," wrote lead study author Sari Raisanen, an epidemiologist and visiting scholar at Emory University in Atlanta, and her colleagues. What puzzled the researchers was that a percentage of the cases involved women who have no prior signs of depression and were considered low risk for the condition.

The researchers scrutinized the women's medical histories and observed that Caesarean birth, preterm birth, stillbirth or birth involving a congenital anomaly were potential risk factors. The greatest predisposing factor after a history of depression, however, was a doctor's diagnosis of the expectant mother fearing childbirth.

The researchers also noted that their study did not reveal whether giving birth itself triggered the depression and whether women, who do not have prior history of depression, would have been free of the condition if they had remained childless.

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