The new study, published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, also found that social support from peers may be effective for maternal depression up to two years after delivery.
Postpartum depression is often described as a period of emotional distress that typically affects a new mother within four weeks of delivery and can interfere with her ability to care for her newborn.
The incidence of this form of depression is high; the American Psychological Association estimates that nine percent to 16 percent of women who give birth may experience postpartum depression.
Significantly, the chance of depression dramatically escalates with subsequent pregnancies with as many as 41 percent of pregnancies associated with depression.
Previous studies indicate that postpartum depression — a major depression of at least two weeks — may occur in mothers up to two years following delivery, with rates of up to 30 percent worldwide.
“Postpartum depression is a major health concern not only for the mother, but for the child as well,” said Nicole Letourneau, Ph.D., R.N., F.C.A.H.S. and professor in the Faculty of Nursing and Cumming School of Medicine (Pediatrics & Psychiatry) at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada.
“Treatments for postpartum depression are particularly important to prevent adverse effects on the mother-child relationship, and limit the potential impact on child development.”
For the present quasi-experimental study, researchers recruited 64 mothers with depression up to two years after delivery who were living in New Brunswick.
The average age of mothers was 26 years, with 77 percent reporting depressive symptoms prior to pregnancy and 57 percent having pregnancy complications. There were 16 women (35 percent) who were taking medication for depression since the birth.
Peer volunteers who recovered from postnatal depression were trained as peer support and provided an average of nine support calls.
The telephonic peer support significantly helped to relieve depression although some rebound did occur.
“Our findings highlight the importance of nurses assessing depression in new mothers and demonstrate the potential of telephone-based peer support to reduce maternal depression,” concludes co-lead author Loretta Secco, M.N., Ph.D., R.N., professor in the Faculty of Nursing, University of New Brunswick.
“This non-judgmental support from peers seems to help overcome the stigma often associated with mental illness.”
The authors suggest that nurses enhance their understanding of depression risk factors, treatment barriers and mental illness stigma to better assist with developing interventions that help mothers with depression receive the care they need.