While many have heard of the post-partum blues, first time mothers are also at risk for additional mental health issues. Although the “blues” or depression is fairly common occurring in about 10 to 15 percent of women, schizophrenia and bipolar disorders are also prevalent in the 3 months following the birth of their first child.
A study of over 2.3 million Danish-born persons discovered the increased risk for mental disorders among new mothers while finding that first-time fathers do not have the elevated susceptibility.
The findings were reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). An editorial accompanying the article affirmed the postion that becoming a parent is a significant “biopsychosocial factor that may precipitate new episodes of illness.” Early detection of the mental health disorder is important as treatment is most effective as “mood episodes can be lengthy and psychosocial sequelae increase with duration”. Further, “maternal depression exacts a heavy toll on women’s functioning and the health and well-being of their children. … Mental health is crucial to a mother’s capacity to function optimally, enjoy relationships, prepare for the infant’s birth, and cope with the stresses and appreciate the joys of parenthood.”
For the original study, Trine Munk-Olsen, M.Sc., of the University of Aarhus, Denmark and colleagues estimated the risk of postpartum mental disorders requiring hospital admission or outpatient contact for first-time mothers and fathers up to 12 months after becoming a parent.
The researchers analyzed data from Danish health and civil service registers, which for this study included a total of 2,357,942 Danish-born persons who were followed up from their 15th birthday or January 1973, whichever came later, until date of onset of the disorder in question, date of death, date of emigration from Denmark, or July 2005, whichever came first.
From 1973 to 2005, a total of 630,373 women and 547,431 men became parents for the first time. A total of 1,171 women and 658 men were admitted with a mental disorder to a psychiatric hospital during the first 12 months after parenthood, and the corresponding prevalence of severe mental disorders through the first 3 months after childbirth was 1.03 per 1,000 births for mothers and 0.37 per 1,000 births for fathers.
For first-time mothers, the first weeks and months after the delivery were associated with an increased risk of first admission with any mental disorder, and the period from 10 to 19 days following the birth was associated with the highest risk (7.3 times increased risk) compared with women who had given birth 11 to 12 months previously.
The increased risk of admission among mothers remained statistically significant through the first 3 months after childbirth regardless of age of the mother. Risk for mothers was also increased for psychiatric outpatient contacts through the first 3 months after childbirth, also with the highest risk occurring 10 to 19 days following the birth.
Unlike motherhood, fatherhood was not associated with any increased risk of hospital admission or outpatient contact. “This may indicate that the causes of postpartum mental disorders are more strongly linked to an altered physiological process related to pregnancy and childbirth than psychosocial aspects of motherhood.”
“Accurate estimates of the rates of and risk factors for postpartum depression are highly important for the scientific and clinical understanding of mental and behavioral disorders during the postpartum period as well as for planning mental health services for childbearing women and their families,” the authors write.