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Postpartum depression occurs more often with fear of childbirth

Harold Mandel's picture
Newborn baby

Having a child can be one of the most beautiful things a woman can experience. However, many times women deal with intense anxieties and fears about childbirth. Clearly, women who are assisted in maintaining their composure about childbirth will have an easier time coping with this monumental event in their lives.

Fear of childbirth predicts postpartum depression, reports the British Medical Journal. Researchers have observed a history of depression serves as the strongest risk factor for postpartum depression. Other very strong predisposing factors for postpartum depression were found to be:

1: Fear of childbirth

2: Caesarean birth

3: Nulliparity

4: Major congenital anomaly

It was concluded that although a history of depression was found to be the most significant predisposing factor of postpartum depression, women without previous episodes of depression were at an increased risk of postpartum depression if adverse events were experienced during the course of pregnancy, particularly if they showed physician diagnosed fear of childbirth.

According to this study of over 500,000 mothers in Finland, expectant women with prenatally diagnosed fear of childbirth are at an increased risk of postpartum depression, reports the University of Eastern Finland. Women with a history of depression were seen as being at the highest risk of postpartum depression. A new observation has found fear of childbirth also greatly increases the risk of postpartum depression. This finding may help health care professionals better recognize postpartum depression.

In Finland, where this research was done, postpartum depression was diagnosed in 0.3 percent of all mothers who delivered a single birth between 2002–2010. The risk of postpartum depression has been found to be highest after the first childbirth. There was a diagnosis of postpartum depression in 5.3 percent of women who had a history of depression, while about one-third of women who experienced postpartum depression had no history of depression. Physician diagnosed fear of childbirth during pregnancy was discovered to nearly triple the risk of postpartum depression. Other major risk factors were caesarean section, pre-term birth and major congenital anomaly.

Having a baby is a very powerful physical and emotional experience for women. As many as 50–80 percent of women suffer from some degree of feeling blue after birth. Some women experience postpartum depression with severity which ranges from minor symptoms to psychotic depression.
The consequences of postpartum depression can be very severe. Postpartum depression may adversely affect the mother's abilities and skills to carefully interact with the child, which may undermine emotional binding between the mother and child. This could adversely affect the later development and well-being of the child.

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Women who have a history of depression are known to be at an increased risk of postpartum depression. However, it has been hard to predict the risk of women who do not belong to this risk group. The researchers think the observed association between fear of childbirth and postpartum depression may help health care professionals recognize postpartum depression. This could lead to earlier and more effective intervention for this condition. Fish oil may help lower the risk for postpartum depression for pregnant women, reports EMaxHealth reporter Robyn Nazar, RN BSN.

A lot of women report feeling they have baby blues after childbirth, writes the National Institutes of Health. Women suffering from baby blues may have many disturbing experiences, including:

1: Mood swings

2: Feeling sad, anxious or overwhelmed

3: Having crying spells

4: Lose of appetite

5: Trouble sleeping

With typical baby blues the problem generally goes away within a few days or a week. These symptoms are not very severe and do not require treatment.

When a woman is hit with postpartum depression the symptoms last longer and are more serious. The mother may begin to feel hopeless and worthless, and lose interest in her new baby. The mother may also have thoughts of hurting herself or the baby. In extreme cases mothers may have hallucinations or try to hurt themselves or the baby.

Proper compassionate intervention is therefore very important. Postpartum depression begins at anytime within the first year after childbirth. The cause is not well understood. It appears hormonal and physical changes which occur after birth and the stress of caring for the new baby may play a role. Women who have suffered from depression are at higher risk.

I have observed the mixed emotions which women experience about childbirth. As the researchers have noted, although giving birth can be such a magnificent experience for a woman, it often brings on deep anxieties and fears. In view of how serious postpartum depression can be, coupled with the finding that fear of childbirth is associated with an increased risk for this problem, I suggest compassionate supportive counseling for women prior to and after giving birth.

With the right attitudes and support more women may be able to fully enjoy the phenomenal experience of childbirth and of thereafter raising their new baby. One way to help beat postpartum depression may be with physical therapy exercise, as written about by EmaxHealth reporter Deborah Mitchell.