Researchers have found depression in first-time mothers to be more common four years after giving birth than during the first 12 months after childbirth.
The study indicated that these mothers were at double the risk of depression, as 23% of mothers with only one child were depressed four years after giving birth, compared to 11% with two or more children.
The study which was published in the International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, blames social adversity, domestic abuse and relationship problems as the triggers for depression. These women are currently not being recognised at all.
Experts have stated that the current mental health guidelines applicable in the UK and Australia places focus on the pregnancy and the first few months after childbirth. However, this time period eliminates the 50% of women who suffer depression during their first years of motherhood.
The study included 1507 first-time mothers who had registered birthing needs at six Melbourne hospitals. The participants completed questionnaires at three months, six months, one year, one and a half years and four years after childbirth.
The incidence of depression at the four-year mark was 14.5%. This was higher than at any other time point during the first 12 months of motherhood.
Mothers with a single child showed much higher depression levels four years after giving birth than mothers who had two or more children.
The main predictors of depression at four years after childbirth were showing symptoms either during early pregnancy or during the first year after giving birth. However, at four years after childbirth, 40% of the women showing symptoms had not previously experienced depression. Other factors included being between the ages of 18 and 24 years, stressful events in the 12 months prior to the four-year report, low income and partner violence.
The co-author of the study, Dr Hannah Woolhouse, from Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Victoria, Australia, said that the research findings offer significant details for a revision of maternal mental health by the extension of the monitoring period. She stated that the current maternal mental health surveillance systems in both Australia and the UK will allow for more than 50% of women going through depression during those early parenting years, to fall through the cracks. This applied mostly to those women who do not become pregnant again as they will not have the opportunity to reconnect to primary care services.
The BJOG Editor-in-Chief, John Thorp, stated that much research has been done on maternal mental health at the perinatal period, but very little is known about maternal depression after the first year of giving birth.
The study findings have shown the necessity for more focus to be placed on maternal health in the long-term, as well as other factors relevant to the mother’s life at the time.
A survey done by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) in the UK during the first part of this year found that three out of five new mothers stated that they felt down or had depressive feelings after childbirth.
The college stated their satisfaction about the mandate from Health Education England to improve the training of midwives in perinatal mental health. The Government has also made promises to improve the postnatal services available to women who suffer mental health issues.