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Maternal depression more likely four years postpartum: Study

While postpartum depression is something we watch for closely, an Australian study indicates that later maternal depression may be more common.

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Photo: iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

We routinely talk about postpartum depression, which hits moms in the first 12 months after having a baby, but an Australian study has found that moms are more likely to experience maternal depression four years after giving birth.

The study, published in the February 2015 issue of BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (previously published online), asked more than 1,500 women to fill out surveys about their mental and relationship health when their babies were three, six and 18 months old, and again when their children were four years old. One in three women reported having depressive symptoms at least once in four years. In fact, 14.5 percent of women reported feeling depressed at four years postpartum, which was higher than any time-point in the first 12 months.

Women who had only one child were twice as likely to be depressed (22.9 percent versus 11.3 percent of moms who’d had subsequent children). The number was also higher if the women had previous bouts of depression, were young moms, or had experienced a major life change during the same period.

Often symptoms of depressionfatigue, exhaustion, irritability and sadness—can be waved off by people by saying “she’s just a tired mama.” But this study shows that maternal mental health is an ongoing issue and should be better recognized more by the medical system after the baby turns one.

There are all these old wives tales about the terrible twos, but I found the fours particularly challenging. In fact, my friends and I called them the “f*ck you fours.”

A lot of those challenges have to do with four-year-olds finding their place in the world—and that place is often away from you. This can make providing the basic human requirements of food, sleep and clothing challenging. Add in massive meltdowns, backtalk, demands for independence and some sleep disturbances, and you can see why mothers may feel at loose ends.

The author of the study suggested that doctors may want to check in with mothers when they bring their little ones in for their annual checkups and vaccination, and this would be a good move. Hopefully this study will also encourage paediatricians to look for signs of maternal depression after the crucial first months, as a mom’s mental health affects her kids.

When your kids are four, you’re supposed to have it together—the days of sleep deprivation, new-parent anxiety and lugging around a wee one are over. But the challenges and emotional ups and downs of being a parent never go away—they just change.

It’s about time that we—as well as the medical community—acknowledge that maternal depression can affect us all, no matter how old the kids are.

Read more:
Parenting through severe postpartum depression>
Postpartum depression in dads>