Depression Likelier in Abused New Moms

Postnatal depression linked with domestic violence

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Bringing home a new baby is stressful on its own. But throw in the anxiety of an abusive relationship and depression may follow.

According to a new study, being battered during pregnancy tripled the odds that that women would develop depression after giving birth.

Depression, high levels of anxiety, eating disorders and various psychoses are among the mental problems common during and following pregnancy, the researchers wrote.

Not only can those illnesses cause mental and emotional stress, they also can result in miscarriage, premature births or dangerously low birth weights, and can undermine children's wellness down the road.

"Confide in your doctor if you're concerned for your safety."

Louise Howard, PhD, of Kings College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, was lead author of the study.

Dr. Howard and colleagues examined 67 previous studies of women who were at least 16 years old and whose partner – or some other family member – physically, psychologically or sexually abused them while they were pregnant and of women who were at risk for such abuse.

Based on their analysis, the researchers concluded that “...high levels of symptoms of perinatal [near the time of birth] depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder...” existed before and/or after childbirth in the abused women who were studied.

Women in parts of Africa, Asia, Australia, Central America, South America and North America were included in the 67 studies, which investigated domestic abuse over women’s lifetimes, during pregnancy and the prior year of their lives.

The 67 studies included research that, for a period of time, tracked pregnant women from the point at which they reported being a victim of domestic violence. Some studies were based on what clinicians observed and gathered about the women in clinical settings.

Results of the analysis suggested that the odds of having high levels of depressive symptoms in the postnatal period were almost three times higher for women who experienced partner violence during pregnancy.

Their findings, the researchers wrote, showed the need for additional evidence that motivates maternity and mental healthcare providers to better address domestic violence. The end goal, the researchers added, is to improve the well-being of domestically abused pregnant women and, immediately after childbirth, of the mothers and their babies.

While the researchers concluded that domestic violence was associated with depression and other mental disorders, they did not suggest that domestic violence was the immediate cause of post-pregnancy mental illness.

Nevertheless, the researchers wrote that mental disorders in parenting women have been linked with eventual behavioral and emotional problems in their children.

As examples of how widespread domestic violence is, the researchers wrote that an estimated 4 percent to 8 percent of high-income women in the United States had been victims. In the United Kingdom, the researchers wrote, citing a separate report, those who were responsible for the deaths of pregnant women included their intimate partners and in-laws.

The research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research, which also pays some of Dr. Howard’s regular salary.

The funders had no role in the study, wrote the researchers, who also have helped set guidelines and policy for World Health Organization programs aimed at reducing violence against women.

The study was published May 27 in PLOS Medicine.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 27, 2013
Last Updated:
August 9, 2013