We all know that in the first year after giving birth, many mums struggle with depression, frustration and isolation.
But now a new study from Australia suggests that depression is more likely at a later stage.
The survey found that symptoms of depression were more common 4 years after a first birth than at any time during the first year. This goes against the long-held view that the first year of motherhood is the lowest point for many.
The findings were especially true for women with 1 child. The study found 23% of mums with an only child felt depressed 4 years later, compared to 11% of mums with 2 or more children.
The study followed 1,507 women in public hospitals in Melbourne and tested using standard mental health questionnaires at 3, 6, 12 and 18 months after delivery, and again at 4 years.
The study confirmed what we already know: depression amongst mums is very common. Almost 1 in 3 first-time mums reported depressive symptoms at least once between pregnancy and when their child was 4-years-old in the study that was published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
Younger mums, aged 18-24 were also more likely to be depressed. Stressful life events and social problems also played a part, as did low income and domestic violence.
The experts behind the survey are calling for more thinking on the current ways signs of depression in mums are picked up.
“It is likely that current systems of maternal mental health surveillance in Australia and the UK will miss more than half the women experiencing depression in the early years of parenting,” warns Dr Hannah Woolhouse, psychologist and senior research officer from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Victoria. “In particular, women who do not have subsequent children may be especially vulnerable to falling through the gaps as they will not be reconnected back into primary care services.
The research has prompted a response from the Royal College of Midwives in the UK. Janet Fyle, professional policy advisor at the RCM, has called for improvements to be made in detecting mental health problems in pregnancy and in the treatment and care afterwards. “This research highlights that maternity services are failing women affected by mental health problems repeatedly and this leads to unnecessary suffering and distress for women and their families.”
Have you had any experience of depression during pregnancy or after the birth of your child? Did you feel lower when your first child was around the age of 4?
- Postnatal depression: One mum’s story
- Essential guide to dealing with postnatal depression
- Postnatal depression: The symptoms
MadeForMums Writer – Jessica Gibb