Fear of childbirth linked to postpartum depression

New research from the University of Eastern Finland suggests a link between postpartum depression and fear of giving birth.

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Jen after the birth of her first child. Photo: Jennifer Pinarski

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children.

I wouldn’t say that I was necessarily afraid of giving birth when I was pregnant with my first child — “blissfully ignorant” is likely a better description of my general attitude towards birth plans, pain management techniques and postpartum depression (PPD).

My plan was to have a baby. Beyond that, my husband and I didn’t think about the actual birth process. While pregnant I was treated for chronic depression, with both my family doctor and OB/GYN on-hand to continue providing anti-depressants throughout my pregnancy in the hopes that I could avoid postpartum depression.

Read more: Postpartum depression doesn’t care where you live >

Despite all my best efforts, I struggled with postpartum depression after both of my children (the first a C-section and the second a VBAC). Now, however, new research from the University of Eastern Finland argues that mapping out a proper birth plan may eliminate postpartum depression.

Researchers with the University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio University Hospital, the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare, Copenhagen University Hospital, the Nordic School of Public Health in Gothenburg, Sweden, and Emory University in the US conducted their research over an eight-year period, studying more than 500,000 women in Finland. While it’s common knowledge that women with a history of depression are at a higher risk to develop symptoms, the discovery that expectant mamas with a diagnosed fear of childbirth are three times more likely to suffer from PPD is new information — and the benefits of this research could potentially help doctors recognise PPD in advance and help new moms.

“The fact that fear of childbirth puts women without a history of depression at an approximately three times higher risk of postpartum depression is a new observation which may help healthcare professionals in recognising postpartum depression,” says Sari Räisänen, Doctor of Health Sciences with UEF. “The study provides strong evidence, as it relies on diagnosis-based data on postpartum depression.”

I think it’s only natural to be afraid of giving birth. First-time moms are subjected to birthing room horror stories from complete strangers (I swear, no one had a positive birth experience to share with me while I was pregnant with my son). Then, after you’ve given birth for the first time, you know what you’re getting into, which either better prepares you for the next time — or scares the kangaroo-pouched maternity pants off you.

So what’s a pregnant mama to do? In my experience, declining unwanted advice (“No, I don’t want to hear about your episiotomy thankyouverymuch”) and visualizing a healthy baby in my arms helped a wee bit with my anxiety before labour began. But the best help I received was from seeking out the advice of trusted friends and having a postpartum depression action plan in place. Having that, rather than a birth plan, worked for me the second time around.

Were you afraid of giving birth? Did you experience postpartum depression? Tweet me @jenpinarski.

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