Depression in new mothers triple pre-pandemic levels

March 17, 2022
Depression in new mothers triple pre-pandemic levels

New research into pregnancy and postpartum depression highlights how new mothers experienced more depressive episodes during the early days of COVID-19 (COVID). The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had earlier estimated that 1 in 8 mothers experienced postpartum depression, and about 5-7% experienced major depressive symptoms, but after COVID struck data revealed 1 in 3 new mothers screened positive for postpartum depression and 1 in 5 had major depressive symptoms including thoughts to self-harm, said Clayton Shuman, a professor of nursing from the University of Michigan (U-M).

Shuman was surprised by how many women screened positive for depression and major depression.

From the research, the chances for screening positive for postpartum depression and depressive symptoms was amplified in mothers who fed infants formula (92% and 73%, respectively), compared to those who breastfed or bottle-fed with their own milk. Mothers with infants in neonatal intensive care units also had 74% greater odds of screening positive (each one-week increase postpartum increased the odds of screening positive by 4%), while mothers worried about contracting COVID-19 had 71% greater odds of screening positive for postpartum depression.

[U-M researchers had collected survey data between February and July 2020 from 670 new American mothers who completed the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale online.]

There are several possible reasons for the breastfeeding finding, Shuman said. Limited breastfeeding support resources such as lactation consults during early COVID may have increased distress or caused the switch to formula. Stress from supply chain problems that resulted in formula shortages could have also contributed to depression.

Meanwhile, other studies suggest that breastfeeding may help to protect postpartum patients from postpartum depression, helping to minimise the severity of depressive symptoms and improving recovery time.

“Treatment is pivotal to recovery,” Shuman said. “Resources and education about postpartum depression must be better disseminated and implemented. These resources should be shared with the public to reduce stigma and with those who provide social and emotional support to postpartum patients, such as partners and family members.”

Read: Depression tied to sustained sedentarism during pandemic, say researchers

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