Childbirth Fears a Predictor for Postpartum Depression

young mother suffering from postpartum depressionPostpartum depression can make it difficult for a new mother to bond with her baby and reengage in everyday activities, and it can be difficult to distinguish the disorder from the more general and mild “baby blues.” In order to promote early intervention, it’s important for healthcare providers to understand the factors that can contribute to postpartum so it’s recognized and diagnosed as soon as possible. A recent study looked at the role that fear of childbirth plays in developing postpartum.

Childbirth can be a traumatic experience, combining both physical and mental exertion to deliver a baby safely. Between 50 and 80 percent of new mothers report restlessness, anxiety, irritation and tearfulness that can be summed up as baby blues. But in some cases women may develop more serious symptoms, including those associated with a depressive episode. On rare occasions, women can develop psychotic depression following childbirth.

A mother recovering from childbirth can be overwhelmed by not only learning how to care for her baby but also finding herself isolated from childless friends and social interactions at her job. When a new mother finds herself unmotivated to care for her baby or even get out of bed, it’s time to seek help. Even if there’s confusion regarding whether signs of postpartum depression are there, it’s important to check in with a physician. As with any mental disorder, early intervention is a key to effective treatment.

The study, which was led by study author Sari Raisanen, an epidemiologist and visiting scholar at Emory University in Atlanta, found that women that are diagnosed with a fear of labor and delivery are at an increased risk for developing postpartum depression.

According to the findings, women with a history of depression had the highest risk of developing postpartum depression. However, women that had a significant fear of childbirth, but no prior history of depression, were three times more likely to meet criteria for postpartum depression.

The researchers reviewed the birth and health registries of 511,422 single-child births in Finland between 2002 and 2010. Postpartum depression was found in 0.3 percent of the women, and more than five percent that had a history of depression went on to develop postpartum. One curiosity for the research team was that among women with no history of depression one-third developed postpartum depression.

Among women that were diagnosed by a physician with a fear of childbirth there was three times the risk of developing postpartum depression. Additional risk factors included pre-term birth, major congenital anomaly and the performing of a Caesarean section.

The study provides insight for a group of women that are at an increased risk of experiencing symptoms that are associated with postpartum depression. While it has been long known that a history of depression makes postpartum depression more likely, the risk factors for postpartum depression among women who have never had depression has been unknown.

The study’s findings may help clinicians identify women that are at risk for developing postpartum and introduce treatment right away when symptoms appear. Early intervention may help new mothers experience a higher quality of life and ensure that they are able to bond with their baby.

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