Causes of Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression study linked with eating disorders and abuse history

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

(RxWiki News) Postpartum depression is a serious illness that is distressing for many new mothers. The causes were previously unclear, but a new study has unmasked some contributing factors to depression.

A recent survey of 158 pregnant and postpartum women who were undergoing treatment for depression at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s psychiatric clinic found that one third of patients had a history of eating disorders and many had a history of physical of sexual abuse.

These experiences might increase the likelihood that a woman will have depression during or after pregnancy, researchers said.

"If you are pregnant and at risk, ask your therapist about  depression."

For these reasons, pregnant women should be asked about their histories of eating disorders and abuse during routine prenatal care, said Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, lead author of the recent study by researchers at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Medicine. Postpartum depression that remains undiagnosed and untreated can affect the entire family, including the child, she said.

Appropriate screening is important to minimize the impact of postpartum depression, the researchers said.

Other contributing factors to depression during or after pregnancy can include hormonal changes, changes in work and social relationships, lack of sleep and stress.

Women under age 20, who had mixed feelings about the pregnancy, have a history of depression or other mental illnesses, have financial problems or little social support or at higher risk of developing postpartum depression.

The study was published in the June 2011 issue of Journal of Women’s Health.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 21, 2011
Last Updated:
June 25, 2011