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David Baxter PhD

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Postnatal depression soars, say midwives
Tue, May 1 2007

The number of women who have had postnatal depression could be two to three times higher than previous estimates, reveals a survey of 500 mothers commissioned by the Royal College of Midwives as part of this year's Midwifery Week (30 April - 5 May 2007).

It is estimated that 10 per cent of new mothers suffer some sort of depressive illness, yet in a GfK NOP survey conducted in April 2006, 20 per cent of women said they had postnatal depression (PND) that had resulted in treatment such as medication, special group meetings or therapy after the birth of their baby. Women with children aged under one year reported the highest incidence (27 per cent), compared to mothers with children aged 0-15 years (20 per cent).

The news comes ahead of the International Day of the Midwife on 5 May, when midwives throughout the nation are joining forces to champion the right for mothers both in the UK and around the world to have access to midwifery care.

Dame Karlene Davis, General Secretary of the Royal College of Midwives said: "Pregnancy is a wonderful life changing event for some women but the transition to motherhood can trigger anxiety, severe exhaustion and depression. This survey indicates that postnatal depression could be a lot higher than previously estimated and the reality is that the incidence could be even higher, as many women hide their symptoms and are too afraid to ask for help.

"Postnatal care is of utmost importance to women and their families and the findings are particularly relevant given the current shortage of midwives."

Being in a supportive relationship appears to have a positive benefit on motherhood, as only 18 per cent of mothers who are married or living as married said they had PND, compared to 25 per cent who are single and 27 per cent who are widowed, divorced or separated.

Forty-one per cent of the women who said they had suffered postnatal depression (PND) described their birth experience as bad or very bad (compared to 37 per cent of all the women surveyed who described their birth as good or very good).

When asked about their first experience of childbirth, only 9 per cent of PND women said they had a very good birth experience, yet 25 per cent said they had a very bad birth experience and 16 per cent said they had a bad birth experience.

Women who juggle a full time job with motherhood are half as likely to have developed postnatal depression. The survey found that 30 per cent of out of work mothers said that they had experienced PND, compared to 14 per cent of those who are working in full time jobs and 16 per cent who are working part-time.

This could be linked with isolation, as the survey also showed that 66 per cent of PND mothers experienced feelings of isolation (compared to 32 per cent of all mothers questioned) and 48 per cent were afraid of being isolated from social circle or friends (compared to 24 per cent of all mothers questioned).

According to the Royal College of Midwives, postnatal depression tends to develop when the baby is about six to eight weeks old, although it can start sooner, particularly if the woman was depressed in her pregnancy.

This is supported by the survey findings which show that during their pregnancy, 63 per cent of mothers that said they had PND said they had sometimes felt sad and tearful, 57 per cent were very anxious about the pregnancy and birth and 22 per cent felt depressed or very sad a lot of the time.

Thirty-five per cent of those who said they had PND said that they had also experienced the baby blues, with 34 per cent saying that symptoms of both lasted 2-6 months and 21 per cent saying that symptoms lasted over 24 months.

When asked what made them feel better at this time, 76 per cent said being able to talk to someone who understood, 72 per cent said having a supportive family and 66 per cent said being able to tell someone who then could help or take action.

Emily Wooster, Policy Officer at the mental health charity, MIND said: "Depression can occur before, during or after pregnancy and an early diagnosis is key in helping women to cope with the emotional and physical demands of motherhood. Midwives are ideally placed to listen and identify where a mother might be experiencing mental health difficulties."

A supportive family plays a key role in helping depressed mothers cope, with 62 per cent of mothers who had PND saying that they thought family would be the best source of help or support (and 51 per cent of women who had PND named midwife as a source of help or support).

However, over half (54 per cent) of the PND mothers said that they lost interest in their partner.

"This year's Midwifery Week aims to raise the awareness of perinatal mental health and associated conditions that can develop around pregnancy such as eating disorders and self harming. Like postnatal depression, some of these conditions may be more common than we think and if left untreated, the symptoms can last for many months and can damage a mother's relationship with her partner and her children.

"The survey showed that 16 per cent of postnatally depressed mothers believe that nothing, except time can make them feel better. We don't want mothers to suffer in silence and are encouraging them to talk to their families, to other women who may have gone through the same experience and to ask midwives for help," said Dame Karlene Davis.
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