According to research completed at the University of North Carolina, women who experience unintended pregnancy are at increased risk of depression for at least 12 months postpartum. The results of the study were published in BJOG.
Study participants were patients at one of several prenatal clinics operated by the University of North Carolina. All participants were asked to classify their pregnancy as intended, mistimed or unwanted between 15 and 19 weeks gestation. Women who reported the pregnancy was mistimed and unwanted were placed in the unintended category.
In total, 64% (433) women planned the pregnancy, 30% (207) claimed the pregnancy was mistimed and 6% (40) reported the pregnancy was unwanted. Researchers collected information at three months and 12 months postpartum from 688 and 550 new mothers, respectively.
At the three month mark, 11% of women in the unintended pregnancy category reported symptoms of depression compared to just 5% of the intended group. At twelve months postpartum the spread between the groups grew significantly as did the percentage of women in the unintended category reporting symptoms of depression. Twelve-percent of the women in the unintended group reported depression at 12 months compared to just 3% of women in the intended pregnancy group. Researchers took confounding factors that could increase the risk of postpartum depression into consideration, including age, poverty and education, but unintended pregnancy still accounted for a two-fold increase in depression risk.
Researchers suggest physicians inquire in early pregnancy about whether or not the pregnancy was planned. Targeting unplanned and unwanted pregnancies early helps physicians understand women at risk for postpartum depression. In addition to providing emotional support and depression education to women at risk for postpartum depression, early prediction could decrease risk to the fetus in subsequent pregnancies. According to Mike Marsh, the editor of BJOG, “Unintended pregnancyhas been linked to poor prenatal care, high-risk pregnancy behaviors and increased rates of preterm birth [leading to] poor social outcomes and increased medical costs.” A substantial amount of research exists linking unintended pregnancy to fetal complications, but little information is available about how unintended pregnancy affects the mother.
Source: Mercier JR, Garret J, Thorp J. Pregnancy intention and postpartum depression: secondary data analysis from a prospective cohort. BJOG 2013. DOI: 10.1111/1471-0528.12255.