Study Identifies Risk Factors for Postnatal Study

Jan 21 2016

Dr Catherine Chojenta

New research has found that women with a history of mental health problems are overwhelmingly more likely to suffer postnatal depression (PND) than other women, highlighting the need for early intervention.

Dr Catherine Chojenta from the University of Newcastle and Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI)* said the findings show that preventing, treating and managing depression and anxiety earlier in life may protect some women from PND.

Dr Chojenta used data from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH) to develop a model of predictors for postnatal depression by analysing psychological, health and social factors.

“Women with postnatal anxiety were 13 times more likely to develop PND concurrently, and if they had suffered antenatal depression they were at nine times the risk,” Dr Chojenta said.

“Women who had PND previously were five times more likely to experience symptoms following the birth of a subsequent child, and women who reported a history of depression were one and a half times more likely to encounter PND.”

ALSWH study participants aged between 31 and 36 were surveyed in 2009 about their experiences around child birth, and this data was used in combination with four earlier surveys they had completed from 1996 to 2006.

More than 15 per cent of the 5219 women who reported giving birth to a child indicated that they had experienced PND with at least one of their children.

Dr Chojenta said she had expected to identify more factors with a significant impact on PND risk.

“Age, income, education, marital status, and area of residence have all been suggested as potential risk factors in postnatal depression in previous studies,” Dr Chojenta said.

“These factors did not emerge as significant factors in our research, which was the first to examine a comprehensive set of risk factors based on long-term population-level data.”

Dr Chojenta said her findings reinforce the need for intervention to target mental health problems in adolescence and early adulthood.

“This would result in more positive maternal and infant outcomes while helping to tackle the cycle of poor mental health across the lifespan,” Dr Chojenta said.

“We encourage women to talk to their doctor or midwife about any past or present mental health concerns so they can access help as soon as they need it.”

The research has been published in PLos One:

Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH) is a long-running survey funded by the Australian Government Department of Health to provide evidence to develop and evaluate policies to lead to better health for all Australian women.  Now in its twentieth year, ALSWH involves more than 50,000 women in four cohorts, selected from the Australian population.  ALSWH contributes to global knowledge of women’s health through national and international research collaborations and is conducted by staff and investigators at The University of Newcastle and The University of Queensland.

* HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.

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