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Mothers more likely to suffer depression four years after childbirth

Though little research has been done in Ireland on postpartum depression past the 12 month mark, one expert said increased resourcing for public health nurses is key to tackling the problem.

MATERNAL DEPRESSION IS more common at four years after the birth of a child than at any other time in the first 12 months after childbirth, according to a study published today.

The study, published in BJOG today, used date from 1,507 women from six public hospitals in Melbourne, Australia. Researchers examined the prevalence of maternal depression from early pregnancy to four years postpartum and identified possible risk factors for depressive symptoms at the four year mark.

Results show that almost one in three women reported depressive symptoms in the first four years after birth. The prevalence of depressive symptoms at the four year mark was 14.5 per cent, and was higher than at any time-point in the first 12 months after the women had given birth.

Women who had more than one child at four years after the first birth were less likely to report depressive symptoms at this time than those with only one child, researchers also discovered.

Young mothers, stressful life events, domestic abuse

The strongest predictor of depressive symptoms at four years was having previously reported symptoms in either early pregnancy or in the first 12 months after the birth of the baby. Other factors associated with symptoms were giving birth at a young age, stressful life events or social adversity in the year before the four year follow-up, intimate partner violence and low income.

Exposure to domestic abuse in the first 12 months postpartum or in the year prior to the four year follow-up was associated with a four-fold increase in odds of reporting depressive symptoms at the four year mark.

The authors of the study have emphasised the need for services to extend surveillance of mental health among mothers to cover the early years of parenting and they recommended that this become apart of core mental health services.

Mothers in Ireland

In Ireland, there has been little research on postpartum depression past the 12 month mark.

Dr Patricia Leahy-Warren, a senior lecturer at the School of Nursing and Midwifery at University College Cork, who has conducted research on post natal depression, told that support services in Ireland are “very fragmented”.

“You would have a public health nurse visit in the 48 to 72 hour period and she would meet all mothers, regardless on level of income, every single mother gets a visit,” she explained. “After that it depends on the needs of the mother and the nurse’s assessment.”

There are now a third less public health nurses than there were in service five years ago in Ireland and Leahy Warren said she believes, based on research, that these professionals are key in addressing maternal depression in this country.

“The evidence shows that if intervention is by a healthcare profession who has a relationship with the mother, it is more likely to work,” she said. “These people have worked in the community for years, they’d often know the grandmother and the family, especially if the woman had more than one child so they need to be given the training and the time.”

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