U of T nursing professor Cindy-Lee Dennis and colleagues at the University of British Columbia have developed a model that predicts which mothers are at high risk of developing depressive symptoms in the early postpartum period. Their study, published in the fall issue of Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavia, looked at almost 600 British Columbia mothers between April 2001 and January 2002.
Early detection is important, says Dennis, since low mood shortly after delivery is a reliable predictor of later developing postpartum depression.
"Postpartum depression is a major public health issue that has significant consequences for the mother, child and family," says Dennis. "Fortunately, postpartum depression is amenable to supportive interventions early in the postpartum period. Previous studies have identified high-risk mothers at six to eight weeks after birth. Why wait until the mothers are depressed? Why not identify symptoms early so that so secondary preventive interventions can be initiated?"
Previous research has suggested that 13 per cent of new mothers suffer from postpartum depression. Such depression may incapacitate them, but it also has a negative impact on their babies. Children of depressed mothers may exhibit attachment insecurity, emotional developmental delay and difficulties with social interaction.
The researchers identified a number of factors that make women vulnerable to depressive symptoms in the immediate postpartum period, including immigration during the five years prior to giving birth, pregnancy-induced hypertension, lack of partner support and lack of readiness for hospital discharge. The researchers also determined it is important to assess past depressive episodes, vulnerable personality traits, recent stressful life events, availability of support and maternal adjustment in identifying new mothers at risk for postpartum depression.
"The next step is to develop accessible and effective preventive and treatment plans for these women," says Dennis.