Public Release: 

Mothers with postnatal depression reluctant to have more than two children

University of Kent

Mothers who have postnatal depression are unlikely to have more than two children according to research carried out by evolutionary anthropologists the University of Kent and published by Evolution, Medicine and Public Health.

Until now very little has been known about how women's future fertility is impacted by the experience of postnatal depression.

A research team from Kent's School of Anthropology and Conservation collected data on the complete reproductive histories of over 300 women to measure the effect postnatal depression had on their decision to have more children. The mothers were all born in the early to mid-20th century and the majority were based in industrialised countries while raising their children.

The team concluded that postnatal depression, particularly when the first child is born, leads to lowered fertility levels. Experiencing higher levels of emotional distress in her first postnatal period decreased a woman's likelihood of having a third child, though did not affect whether she had a second.

Furthermore, postnatal depression after both the first and the second child dissuaded women from having a third child to the same extent as if they had experienced major birth complications.

The research by Sarah Myers, Dr Oskar Burger and Dr Sarah Johns is the first research to highlight the potential role postnatal depression has on population ageing, where the median age of a country becomes older over time.

This demographic change is mostly caused by women having fewer children, and can have significant social and economic consequences. Given that postnatal depression has a prevalence rate of around 13% in industrialised countries, with emotional distress occurring in up to 63% of mothers with infants, this research suggests that investing in screening and preventative measures to ensure good maternal mental health now may reduce costs and problems associated with an aging population at a later stage.


Article for Evolution, Medicine and Public Health (an open access journal)

Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies of Reproduction

For further information or interview requests contact Sandy Fleming at the University of Kent Press Office.

Tel: 01227 823581/01634 888879


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Notes to editors

Postnatal depression is defined in the study as a depressive episode happening within 12 months of giving birth. Postnatal depression is highly recurrent and predisposes women to future bouts of depression.

Postnatal depression has detrimental impacts on social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development in children because of the negative affect on the quality of the mother-infant interaction.

The analysis for this study was complex and controlled for general depression that occurred at other times, as well as many other well-known factors influencing fertility such as paternal support, SES, and maternal age.

Established in 1965, the University of Kent - the UK's European university - now has almost 20,000 students across campuses or study centres at Canterbury, Medway, Tonbridge, Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome.

It has been ranked: third for overall student satisfaction in the 2014 National Student Survey; 16th in the Guardian University Guide 2016; 23rd in the Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2016; and 22nd in the Complete University Guide 2015.

In the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2015-16, Kent is in the top 10% of the world's leading universities for international outlook and 66th in its table of the most international universities in the world. The THE also ranked the University as 20th in its 'Table of Tables' 2016.

Kent is ranked 17th in the UK for research intensity (REF 2014). It has world-leading research in all subjects and 97% of its research is deemed by the REF to be of international quality.

Along with the universities of East Anglia and Essex, Kent is a member of the Eastern Arc Research Consortium (

In 2014, Kent received its second Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education.

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