First-Time Mom: Higher Depression Risk
Postpartum Depression Risk Is Highest in Baby's First Month
Dec. 5, 2006 -- First-time mothers have a higher risk for postpartum
depression than other new moms, and their risk is greatest during their first
three months of parenthood, a Danish study shows.
Compared with women who had given birth 11 to 12 months earlier, first-time
mothers were found to have seven times the risk of psychiatric-related hospital
admissions during the first 10 to 19 days of their baby's life.
The increase in risk remained throughout the first three months after
childbirth, regardless of the age of the mother. Postpartum risk appeared to
decrease with subsequent pregnancies, researcher Trine Munk-Olsen, MSc, tells
Munk-Olsen and colleagues analyzed the medical histories of close to 2.4
million Danish citizens registered in a national health database.
Their findings are published in the Dec. 6 issue of The Journal of the
American Medical Association.
"This study confirms that the timing of postpartum risk is very
precise," she says. "The first month after giving birth is definitely
the most dangerous time for postpartum mental disorders, but the risk remains
for several months after."
Dads Weren't Depressed
Between 1973 and 2005, just over 630,000 women and 547,000 men in Denmark
became parents for the first time. During the same period a total of 1,171
women ad 658 men were admitted to psychiatric hospitals during their first year
Several smaller studies have suggested that postpartum depression occurs
among new dads, as well as new moms. But the Danish findings do not support
Within the first three month after becoming parents, roughly 1 in 1,000
women and 1 in 3,000 men in the Danish population studied experienced severe
mental disorders that required hospitalization or outpatient psychiatric
"Unlike motherhood, fatherhood was not associated with any increased
risk of hospital admission or outpatient [psychiatric] contact," the
Routine Screening Needed
As many as one in seven new mothers in the U.S. experience some degree of
postpartum depression, according to government figures.
Though earlier studies also suggested that first-time moms have the highest
risk for mental health
problems, the Danish population study is by far the largest to examine the
issue and the first large-scale postpartum depression trial to be conducted in
The findings should serve as a wake-up call to public health officials in
the U.S. who have largely ignored postpartum depression in the past, says a
University of Pittsburgh postpartum researcher who co-wrote an editorial
accompanying the study.
"Knowing what we do about the risks of postpartum depression, we must
recognize our responsibility to address this illness through improved research
and greater access to care and services," Katherine L. Wisner, MD, MS, says
in a news release from the University of Pittsburgh.
Wisner and colleagues Dorothy K.Y. Sit, MD, and Christina Chambers PhD, MPH,
called for the implementation of universal postpartum mental health screening,
to be conducted between two and 12 weeks after childbirth.