Many have typically thought of pregnancy as a time of emotional well-being; however, large-scale studies have indicated that about 10% to 15% of women suffer from depression during pregnancy.
A recent study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry suggests that among women in the general population, pregnancy is not necessarily at time of greater vulnerability to mood disorders. On the other hand, they found that certain women are, in fact, more susceptible to mood disorders. This group includes women living without a partner and those who experienced pregnancy complications or recent stressful life events.
The authors did find that women were at greater risk for major depression during the postpartum period.
They also noted that most women suffering from a psychiatric disorder did not receive any mental health care regardless of pregnancy status.
The authors concluded that pregnancy is not necessarily a time of increased risk for psychiatric disorders for most women. While this finding is reassuring, we cannot conclude that pregnancy is protective for all women. All women who are pregnant should be screened for depression, and it should be made clear that certain women are at higher risk for depression, including women with a previous history of mood disorder.
Several recent studies have suggested that new fathers, not only mothers, can suffer from postpartum depression. Fewer men are affected than women (about 3-5%), but it turns out that paternal depression can also have negative effects on the child.
Good Morning America will be doing a story on male postpartum depression and is looking for men who are willing to talk on-camera about their struggle with depression after the birth of a child.
Some studies have suggested that in some cultures, where sons are more highly valued, women who give birth to daughters are more vulnerable to postpartum depression; however, a recent French study has reported that women who give birth to sons are more likely to suffer postpartum depression than those having daughters.
The study also found that women who had given birth to a son reported overall lower quality of life, regardless of whether they suffered from postpartum depression. In women who did not have depression, mothers of sons had lower quality of life scores in nine out of the 10 categories, including physical functioning, pain, emotional health, vitality and general health.
Why are the mothers of sons more vulnerable? The reasons are probably complex, but there are several theories:
The study, published in the February issue of Journal of Clinical Nursing, says psychoanalytical theories suggest a mother’s attitude towards her son may be shaped by her relationship with present and past male figures.
There was also the possibility that male babies are seen by presentday mothers as “more difficult”.
“Depressed mothers who are often in difficult marital relationships may respond more negatively to their sons,” the report says.
“This requires further research so as to better apprehend the ways in which the birth of a boy can have – on average – a more damaging effect on the mother’s quality of life than the birth of a girl.”