Surprise Pregnancies May Lead to Postpartum Depression
Not a fan of surprises? You wouldn't be the first. A new study shows that there may be a link between unplanned pregnancies and postpartum depression
Still adjusting to an unexpected pregnancy? Get ready, because here’s some more surprising news: women whose pregnancies are unplanned could be more likely to develop postpartum depression (PPD), according to new research from the University of North Carolina.
Published in the medical journal BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, the study included over 600 women who each described their pregnancy as either unplanned, mistimed, or unwanted. Researchers tracked women throughout their pregnancies and after giving birth to see what kind of impact these unexpected pregnancies had on the woman’s mental health.
They didn’t have to wait long for the answer. After following up with women twice during the first year after giving birth, the study team found that new moms in this group were four times more likely to be diagnosed with PPD compared to moms who had actively tried to conceive. The difference in PPD rates was most noticeable at 12 months after birth. At this time, 12 percent of moms in the unplanned group had been diagnosed with depression versus just 3 percent in the planned pregnancy group. When age, education level and poverty status were factored into the results, women with an unintended pregnancy were still twice as likely to experience postpartum depression.
What’s the connection?
For starters, stress. According to the March of Dimes, while postpartum depression appears to be rooted in the hormonal changes that take place in the months following birth, certain lifestyle factors also contribute to how likely a new mom is to develop the mood disorder. Topping the list of these factors? Major life stress and, to a lesser extent, negative thinking patterns.
Pamela Maynard, a Kentucky mom of two whose second child was an “oopsie” after she and her husband had drawn the line at “one and done,” says that she can relate. “I was completely caught off-guard when I found out I was pregnant, but the stress I felt wasn’t about having a baby… that I was thrilled about. I worried constantly about money and our family budget… all the yucky stuff that keeps you up at night.”
It’s also known that women coping with unplanned pregnancies are less likely to attend prenatal care appointments. Skipping check-ups not only removes prenatal care providers’ ability to catch early warning signs of postpartum depression, but it also makes it more difficult, in general, for doctors and midwives to help women have healthy pregnancies and birth outcomes.
As Mike Marsh, BJOG deputy editor-in-chief writes. “Unintended pregnancy has been linked to poor prenatal care, high risk pregnancy behaviors, increased rates of preterm birth and low birth rate, poor social outcomes in childhood, and increased medical costs.”
However, it’s probably not as depressing as you think. If becoming a mom-to-be took you by surprise, researchers say there may be a way to reduce any extra risk for PPD, and—shocker!—it’s pretty easy: simply tell your prenatal care provider that your pregnancy is unplanned. This information can make it much easier for your doctor or midwife to give you the kind of support you need.
As Maynard remembers, “My doctor knew my pregnancy was unplanned from the get go, and now that I think about it, she did ask a lot about how I was feeling emotionally. It’s nice to know she was looking out for me!”
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