Washington: A surprisingly high number of women - one in seven - suffers from postpartum depression, according to a new, large-scale study by a Northwestern Medicine researcher.
The study, which included a depression screening of 10,000 women who had recently delivered infants at single obstetrical hospital, revealed a large percentage of women who suffered recurrent episodes of major depression.
Lead study author Katherine L. Wisner, M.D said the study underscored the importance of prenatal as well as postpartum screening.
She said the lives of several women who were suicidal when staff members called them for the screening were saved likely as a result of the study`s screening and immediate intervention.
"A woman`s mental health has a profound effect on fetal development as well as her child`s physical and emotional development," Wisner said.
Wisner is director of Northwestern`s Asher Center for the Study and Treatment of Depressive Disorders and the Norman and Helen Asher Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. She`s also a physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Wisner said a lot of women do not understand what is happening to them.
"They think they`re just stressed or they believe it is how having a baby is supposed to feel."
In the study, 14 percent of the women screened positive for depression. Of that group, 826 received full psychiatric assessments during at-home visits. Some of the key findings from those assessments:
In women who screened positive for depression, 19.3 percent thought of harming themselves.
Many women who screened positive for major depression postpartum had already experienced at least one episode of depression previously and, in addition, had an anxiety disorder. The study found 30 percent of women had depression onset prior to pregnancy, 40 percent postpartum and 30 percent during pregnancy. More than two-thirds of these women also had an anxiety disorder.
Of the women who screened positive for major depression, 22 percent had bipolar disorder, the majority of whom had not been diagnosed by their physicians. There is often a delay in correctly diagnosing bipolar disorder, which depends on identifying not only the depressed phase but the manic or hypomanic phase as well. But postpartum is the highest risk period for new episodes of mania in a woman`s life.
Maternal prenatal stress and depression is linked to preterm birth and low infant birth weight, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Depression also affects a woman`s appetite, nutrition and prenatal care and is associated with increased alcohol and drug use. Women with untreated depression have a higher body mass index preconception, which carries additional risks.
When a new mother is depressed, her emotional state can interfere with child development and increases the rate of insecure attachment and poor cognitive performance of her child, Wisner said.
The study was recently published in JAMA Psychiatry.