Having a baby is a life-changing, emotional experience for anyone. And for a new mom, it can be particularly stressful. A new study — one of the largest ever of its kind — found that first-time mothers, especially, are at increased risk for mental disorders, including postpartum depression (PPD).
In fact, first-time moms were seven times more likely to be admitted to a hospital for psychiatric problems during the first 10 to 19 days after giving birth than women who'd delivered 11 to 12 months earlier, the study reported.
Over the span of more than 30 years, researchers analyzed the medical records of more than 2.3 million people in Denmark (parents — both moms and dads — and nonparents). Published in the December 6, 2006, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the study found that women giving birth for the first time were at the greatest risk of being hospitalized or seen as an outpatient for a mental disorder during the first 3 months after giving birth. And, regardless of the mothers' ages, new moms remained at greater risk throughout the first 3 months after the births of their babies.
Although other studies have suggested that men may also experience a sort of postpartum depression, this study found no increased risk of psychiatric problems for new fathers.
What This Means to You
Many new moms feel a little moody and sad in the days and weeks after delivery — that's to be expected considering the enormous amount of stress both the body and the brain have gone through since giving birth. Often called the "baby blues," these symptoms are very common and may be related to physical changes as well as the emotional and often-demanding transition of taking care of a newborn.
But about 10% to 20% of moms may experience a more serious condition called postpartum depression (PPD). Baby blues usually pass in a few weeks, but PPD is a serious disorder that can persist and get worse if it goes untreated. Some of the symptoms of PPD may include persistent crying and sadness, as well as sleeping and appetite changes.
Your baby may be several months old before PPD strikes, and it's more common in women with a family history of depression. Call your health care provider right away if you become depressed, experience hallucinations, or have suicidal thoughts or any thoughts of harming your baby. Getting the treatment you need as soon as possible will help you feel more up to the task at hand — taking care of your new baby.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: January 2007
Sources: Trine Munk-Olsen, MSc; Thomas Munk Laursen, MSc; Carsten B?cker Pedersen, MSc; Ole Mors, PhD; Preben Bo Mortensen, DrMedSc; Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), December 6, 2006.