Postpartum depression (PPD) is a serious medical issue that can affect any woman after she gives birth. The Centers for Disease Control estimates show how widespread the problem can be. Statistics show that 11 to 20% of women who give birth each year have postpartum depression symptoms. That’s a pretty wide range, so using an average of 15% is what most experts agree on. There are approximately four million live births each year in the United States. The math on that means that it’s possible that as many as 600,000 women suffer from PPD each year. Adding in another two million women whose pregnancies end in stillbirth, increases the possible numbers as well. Sticking with the math, it’s reported that out of roughly 900,000 women who will deal with PPD, only about 15% of them will actually receive any treatment for it. So that leaves well over 750,000 women with PPD who get no treatment and must soldier on, taking care of themselves and a newborn.
While it’s incredibly difficult for these women and their families, researchers have wondered if the mother’s depression would negatively impact her child. Some research has suggested a link between a mother’s depression and behavioral problems in their children. Naturally this was very concerning for health care providers and mothers alike, but new research shows that it’s not a given that a mom who suffers with PPD will see a negative impact on her children.
The most recent research came from data collected in the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort study. This project looked at 11,599 families and 17,830 siblings. Mothers in the study were asked to report any depressive symptoms at 17 weeks and 30 weeks of gestation. In addition, the mothers were asked to give detailed information on how they were feeling and how their children were at 6 months ,1.5, 3 and 5 years postpartum. Researchers used sibling comparisons to account for the similarity in genetic and environmental factors for the sampling.
The data showed no significant adverse affects on young children of mothers who reported PPD. While there were more problems with children of mothers who suffered from depression before becoming pregnant, as would be expected due to genetic factors, children were not negatively impacted by the PPD of their mums during the first three years of life. Behavioral problems did show up in pre-school aged children and in fact the risk of developmental or emotional issues in children of mothers with PPD increased as those children got older.
Dr. Line C. Gjerde, of the Department of Mental Disorders, Norwegian Institute of Public Health and lead author of the study, said in a press release “The study did show significant effects on a child's psychological development from maternal depression during the preschool years. The effect of maternal depression on children seemed to increase with the child's age. We found that children of mothers who were depressed before and after birth had more mental health problems because they share risk genes with their mother; however, spending time with a depressed mother in the preschool years can be harmful to the child's mental health."
With the risk going up as a child grows, it’s even more important for women to get medical care for PPD as soon as possible. While many women have minor “baby blues” after childbirth, symptoms that get worse or persist longer than a few weeks should be brought to the attention of a health care professional. The video below talks more about the study, take a look. If you or someone you know might be suffering from postpartum depression, click here for resources and information from the American Psychological Association