Family Matters

Having Kids, Especially Young Ones, Ramps Up Depression

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STR New / Reuters

A woman with a baby carriage is seen trough a hole in an underground passage in Ljubljana's Tivoli park July 22, 2009. REUTERS/Bor Slana (SLOVENIA PEOPLE SOCIETY)

Colic, crying, round-the-clock wakings — is it any wonder that parents experience high rates of depression in the first year after the birth of a child?A study of British parents in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine has found that more than one-third of mothers and about one-fifth of fathers seem to have weathered depression sometime between becoming parents and their children’s 12th birthday, with the most episodes occurring in the first year after birth.

“In the past, there was a belief that pregnancy was protective, but we know now — especially for women — that in the year surrounding birth they are most likely to have a depressive episode, most likely to seek treatment and most likely to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital,” says Elizabeth Bullard, medical director of the Perinatal Mood Disorders Inpatient Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The researchers at the Medical Research Council, London, England, looked at 86,957 families treated at doctors’ offices in the United Kingdom between 1993 and 2007. Diagnostic codes and pharmacy records were used to identify parents suffering from depression. Here’s what they learned:

  • 19,286 mothers had 25,176 episodes of depression between their children’s birth and 12th birthday
  • 8,012 fathers had 9,683 episodes of depression

That accounts for a depression rate of 7.53 per 100 mothers per year and 2.69 per 100 fathers per year. When homing in on the first year, however, the rates leaped — especially for women — to 13.93 per 100 mothers and 3.56 per 100 fathers. The researchers also point out that parental depression adversely affects children’s behavior and development.

“These high rates of depression in the postpartum period are not surprising owing to the potential stress associated with the birth of a baby, e.g., poor parental sleep, the demands made on parents and the change in their responsibilities, and the pressure this could place on the couple’s relationship,” the authors write.

Despite the increased rates of depression, there are only a handful of programs around the country that specialize in peri-partum depression, which occurs during pregnancy or after giving birth.