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New research suggests that postpartum depression may persist for 3 years following birth.
The study was led by researchers at the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and aimed to identify homogenous depressive symptom trajectories over the postpartum period and examine the demographic and perinatal factors associated with different trajectories.1
Approximately 1 in 4 women experienced high levels of depressive symptoms at some point in the 3 years after giving birth, according to the results in Pediatrics.
Researchers used Upstate KIDS, a population-based birth cohort study, to recruit 4,866 mothers and provided 5-question assessments of depressive symptoms at 4, 12, 24, and 36 months postpartum. Maternal demographic and perinatal conditions were obtained from vital records and/or maternal reports.
The study showed four depression trajectories: low-stable (74.7%), which was characterized by low symptoms at all waves; low-increasing (8.2%), characterized by initially low but increasing symptoms; medium-decreasing (12.6%) characterized by initially moderate but remitting symptoms; and high-persistent (4.5%), characterized by high symptoms at all waves.1
Infertility treatment, multiple birth, pre-pregnancy BMI, gestational hypertension, and infant sex were not differentially associated with depressive symptom trajectories.
“Our study indicates that six months may not be long enough to gauge depressive symptoms,” said Diane Putnick, Ph.D., the primary author and a staff scientist in the NICHD Epidemiology Branch in a press release. “These long-term data are key to improving our understanding of mom’s mental health, which we know is critical to her child’s well-being and development.”2
The study participants, noted the researchers, were primarily white, non-Hispanic women. They called for future studies to include a more diverse, broad population to provide more inclusive data on postpartum depression.2