Giving birth is a life-changing experience, and you won't realize just how much until it happens to you. You're adjusting to having another human being entirely dependent on you, adjusting to a new body, and dealing with a roller-coaster of emotions during this fourth trimester. It all takes a toll on a new mom's mental health.
Most women after childbirth experience baby blues, but statistics say that eight out of 10 new mothers suffer from postpartum depression (PPD). Others experience postpartum mood disorders such as anxiety, trauma, and even psychosis.
Experts have been looking at how to identify best women who are more prone to developing these conditions, particularly PPD. And one new study makes a connection between carrying baby boys and going through traumatic births as risk factors for PPD.
Researchers from the University of Kent looked at the reproductive histories of nearly 300 women who gave birth to baby boys and saw that 71% to 79% were more likely to develop PPD compared to women who give birth to baby girls.
Study authors, Dr. Sarah Johns, M.D., and Dr. Sarah Myers, M.D., decided to assess whether there was a relationship between the sex of infants and PPD because of the known link between inflammatory immune response and the development of depressive symptoms. The study's press release noted that carrying male fetuses and the experience of birth complications have documented associations with increased inflammation, yet, until this study their relationships with PPD were unclear.
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Many known risk factors for depressive symptoms are associated with activation of inflammatory pathways, opening up the potential for identifying new risk factors based on their inflammation causing effects – an idea supported by this study.
The study, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, also identified that going through a traumatic birth makes women more likely to experience PPD — a whopping 174% more likely — compared to women who gave birth without complications.
Nothing is set in stone or proven by this study. But, with evidence showing that both male infants and birth complications are PPD risk factors, this small study helps health professionals in identifying and supporting women who are more likely to develop this condition.
"PND [postnatal depression, another term for PPD] is a condition that is avoidable, and it has been shown that giving women at risk extra help and support can make it less likely to develop," said Dr. Johns of the university’s School of Anthropology and Conservation (SAC) via a press release.
The research also showed that while women with a tendency towards symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress were always at increased risk of PPD, they had reduced odds of developing it after experiencing birth complications. Why? It is likely these women received greater post-birth support because she and her family (her support system) were aware and recognized her mental health.
With two strong identifying factors, doctors can carefully monitor pregnant women who may be most at-risk for having PPD and focus on preventive measures. For researchers, the next step is exploring risk factors for depressive symptoms associated with activation of inflammatory pathways.