The Year in Postpartum Depression: New Findings in 2014, special edition with Helen Donald

Postpartum depression affects up to 20 per cent of new mothers, causing many new mothers to suffer in silence, and affecting babies in the areas of stress reactivity, social engagement, fear regulation, etc. Researchers have found that babies of depressed moms can find it more difficult to regulate their emotions in the face of novel situations, and tend to cry and show an elevated physiological stress response. Mothers undergoing this difficult situation should know that they are not alone. There are many strategies they can use to curb postpartum depression in the bud, through strategies aimed at battling stress and depression, and, when necessary, with the help of medication. In this post, we review developments in postpartum depression research, discussing interesting findings made in 2014.

* Yoga is useful at helping moms deal with postpartum depression: Yoga is a millenary practice which has been found (in numerous studies over the past decade) to lower levels of stress hormone, cortisol, and to enhance vitality and improve sleep. It is currently an important component of many therapies for everyone from patients overcoming substance addiction or eating disorders, to those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s. A new study, published in the journal, Archives of Women’s Mental Health, has found that yoga can also have an important role to play in battling post-natal depression. The study found that expectant moms who have suffered from depression are around 40 per cent less likely to relapse during pregnancy if they practice yoga (with meditation and controlled breathing exercises) in addition to receiving cognitive therapy. Yoga is thought to be so successful at curbing depression because of its emphasis on keeping the mind in the present moment and because of the intense concentration required to coordinate the various yoga poses with one’s breathing. Yoga is recommended at both the prenatal and postpartum state, to keep anxiety and depression at bay.

* Fearing childbirth increases the risk of postpartum depression: A recent study published by scientists at the University of Eastern Finland found that expectant mothers with a fear of childbirth diagnosed at the prenatal stage, are at an increased risk of postpartum depression. The study is of major significance because of its scale; some 500,000 women were involved.

* Controlling childbirth-related pain lowers the risk of depression: Perinatal psychiatrist, Katherine Wisner, M.D., notes that controlling pain during childbirth and after delivery is linked to a lower risk of suffering from postpartum depression. Dr. Wisner noted that it was vital that women suffering from chronic pain one or two months after delivery should also be tested to rule out depression.

* The suppression of positive emotions increases the risk of postpartum depression: Moms who ‘dampen’ their joy through negative self-assertions (such as ‘I don’t deserve to be this happy’) experience higher levels of depression at the postpartum stage. On the contrary, dwelling on negative feelings is not related to a greater risk of postpartum depression. The researchers noted that their findings pointed to the need to address ‘dampening’ through preventive treatment techniques. Once again, mindfulness (encouraging presence ‘in the here and now’) is an important step allowing positive feelings to flourish.

* Postpartum depression can remain a problem for up to 50 per cent of women: Levels of postpartum depression decrease as the months go by, yet research published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry has shown that up to 50 per cent of women can remain depressed after the first year of their child’s birth. Those at a higher risk of long-lasting postpartum depression include women with a lower income, women from minority groups and a difficult relationship with their partner. Because of the serious consequences postpartum depression can have for babies, note researchers, it is vital that mothers be aware of the many preventive strategies they can take and the importance of receiving treatment if they are suffering from depression.

Finally, we should mention one last study, although it was carried out in December, 2013. The study found that taking a longer period of maternity leave can significantly reduce the risk of postpartum depression. The current 12-week period prescribed by the Family and Medical Leave Act may simply not be enough for those who are most at risk from succumbing to this debilitating condition.