Postnatal depression is commonly linked to the first year or so of a baby’s life – but new research has found all is not as it seems.
A Murdoch Childrens Research Institute study of more than 1500 first-time mums found maternal depression is most common four years after the birth of a first child than any time in the first year. And the risk doubles if the woman has only one child.
Almost a third of women reported symptoms of postnatal depression at some time in their child’s first four years. Those who suffered depression in early pregnancy or during the baby’s first 12 months were more likely to experience it again when the child was four. But 40 per cent of women reporting depressive symptoms when their child hit four had never suffered it previously.
Lead author Dr Hannah Woolhouse says this is one of the first large studies to report the prevalence of postnatal depression from birth to preschool years. “The findings show the extent of depression affecting first-time mothers, even up to four years after the birth of their child,” Dr Woolhouse says. She says the findings suggest a need to rethink models of maternal health surveillance and primary care support, with present systems likely to miss more than half the women suffering depression in the early years of parenting.
“There needs to be greater attention given to the emotional wellbeing of women with preschool-age children, and better targeting of resources to women at higher risk of mental health issues,” she says. “The high prevalence of depression among mothers of four-year-olds suggests there may be a need to extend the monitoring of maternal mental health to at least four years postpartum, and provide women with ongoing support extending well beyond the first 12 months postpartum.”
* If you or someone you know are experiencing symptoms of postnatal depression, contact Beyond Blue.