Study: Unintended Pregnancy May Lead to Higher Risk of Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression is a condition that may affect any woman after she gives birth. In most cases it develops four to six weeks after the baby’s arrival but sometimes it may also observed several months later. New research, though, suggests that postpartum depression affects those women more when their pregnancy wasn’t planned.

depressed woman

Commonly undiagnosed and undetected, the depression that some moms can feel right after child birth has symptoms that include low mood, fatigue, anxiety, irritability, feeling unable to cope, and difficulty sleeping.

To understand the condition better researcher Dr. Rebecca Mercier of the University of North Carolina, asked 688 women who were 15 to 19 weeks pregnant, and attending a pregnancy clinic, whether they were having an “intended,” “mistimed,” or “unwanted” pregnancy.

Of those women, about 64 percent or two thirds of these women said the pregnancies were intended, 30 percent said they were mistimed, and six percent were unintended.

Among the two groups, when the babies were three months old, 11 percent of the mothers with unintended pregnancies had postpartum depression, on the basis of a score of greater than 13 on the Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Scale. The rate in the intended group was five percent.

When 550 women were followed up on after a year, it was found that in the unintended group, 12 percent had postpartum depression compared with three percent of the intended group;  2.1 times the risk at three months, and 3.6 times the risk after a year.

“Once many risk factors such as age, poverty, and education level were taken into account, women with unintended pregnancies were twice as likely to have postpartum depression after a year,” researchers said.

The team concluded, “While many elements may contribute to postpartum depression, unintended pregnancy could also be a contributing factor.”

The full results of the study are published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

“Unintended pregnancy carried to term may have a long-term effect on women,” Mercier said. “Health care professionals should therefore consider asking about pregnancy at early visits, as women who report that their pregnancy was unintended or unwanted may benefit from earlier or more targeted screening both during and following pregnancy.”

Louise Silverton, M.Sc., of the London-based Royal College of Midwives says the analysis is very important and points to the need for more access to midwives for all women after birth. She stresses the consequence could be very serious for the women, their families and for the health service.

Postpartum depression is a much more serious condition than the ‘baby blues’ ,a tearful phase suffered by about half of postnatal women within about three to four days of birth. Postpartum depression may be caused by changes in hormone levels during and post pregnancy, but the area needs more research.

Some of the important factors that may lead to postpartum depression include, inability to breastfeed, a history of depression, abuse, or mental illness, smoking or alcohol use, fears over child care, anxiety before or during pregnancy, background stress, a poor marital relationship, a lack of financial resources, the infant’s temperament or health problems such as colic, and especially lack of social support. A difficult or preterm birth or low birth weight may also be a factor as per Psych Central’s report.

Few studies also suggest that genetic factors may lead to such depression in women, and also lack of sleep. Numerous studies have also found a positive association between low omega-3 levels in the diet of women and a higher incidence of postpartum depression.

Dr. John Thorp of UNC and one of the authors of the research, said, “The perinatal period is a highly vulnerable time for the development or exacerbation of psychiatric illness, including both depression and anxiety disorders.”

He advises that moms-to-be have a prior assessment of trauma history and post traumatic stress disorder based on a questionnaire apart from the “depression assessment that is becoming a standard of care.”

Pregnancy and birth of a child are a life-changing and challenging phase for every woman. Most cope with the pressures well, but few may be vulnerable to the extreme stress, and unknown to themselves, their families might be fighting depression. It is essential therefore that their families and caregivers are always around to help the mom too as she changes her lifestyle with the baby’s arrival.



About the author


Atula is a writer, traveler and a nature-lover. She is also mom to a boy who seems to have inherited all her creative genes. When Atula is not busy making up stories with her son, she writes for numerous magazines, websites and blogs. She is also working on her site on endangered species called

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