Postnatal depression affects one in every ten women within a year of giving birth, but a new study has found one particular risk factor makes your odds of developing the condition much higher – having a baby boy.
For mothers who have sons, the risk of having postnatal depression (PND) is between 71 and 79 per cent higher than those who have daughters.
And for those who had complicated births, the risk of developing PND is 174 per cent higher than women who had no complications during labour.
As a result of their findings, the team from the University of Kent say that male infants and birth complications should be seen as PND risk factors and used by health professionals to identify parents most at risk.
PND is a type of depression that many parents experience after a baby is born. It mainly affects mothers but can also affect fathers or partners.
To find out why male babies are more likely to cause PND, Dr Johns looked at the link between a woman’s inflammatory immune response and the development of depressive symptoms – this is because known risk factors for depressive symptoms are associated with activation of inflammatory pathways.
She found both the development of male foetuses and the experience of birth complications have documented associations with increased inflammation. However more research needs to be done in this area to establish other causes of why baby boys may increase PND risk factors.
The NHS says symptoms of PND include a persistent feeling of sadness and low mood, lack of enjoyment and loss of interest in the wider world, a lack of energy and feeling tired all the time, trouble sleeping at night and feeling sleepy during the day, difficulty bonding with your baby, and withdrawing from contact with other people. It may also make you think frightening thoughts – for example, about hurting your baby.
If those most at risk can be identified they can be offered support to avoid PND, says Dr Sarah Johns, who led on the study of 296 women. “It has been shown that giving women at risk extra help and support can make it less likely to develop,” said Dr Johns. This might also be the reason why the study found women already experiencing depression or anxiety were at a lesser risk than their peers, because they already had support systems in place.
It’s important to seek help as soon as possible if you think you might be depressed, as your symptoms could last months or get worse.
For information and support:
Mind: A mental health charity there to make sure no one has to face a mental health problem alone. Call: 0300 123 3393.
Pandas Foundation: Charity to support and advise any parent who is experiencing a perinatal mental illness. Call: 0843 28 98 401.
Mothers for Mothers: A postnatal depression support group with information and peer advice. Call: 0117 975 6006.
PNI: A website run by women who have suffered from postnatal illnesses to share personal experiences and offer support.