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Fear of Childbirth Increases Risk of Postpartum Depression, Study Suggests

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Jan 06, 2014 01:25 PM EST
Pregnant mothers
It is well established that maternal alcohol consumption is a risk factor of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). However, new research reveals that paternal drinking may be a cause of FAS, as well. (Photo : Flickr)

Pregnant women with prenatally diagnosed fear of childbirth face an increased risk of postpartum depression, according to a new study published in the British Medical Journal Open.

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The study, which included more than 500,000 mothers living in Finland, noted that while postpartum depression was diagnosed in 0.3 percent of all women who gave birth to a single child in 2002-2010, the condition was diagnosed in 5.3 percent of women with a history of depression. The rate was highest after a woman's first birth.

The researchers found that among those women with no history of depression, a diagnosed fear of giving birth during pregnancy tripled a woman's risk of postpartum depression, with other factors including Caesarean section, preterm birth and major congenital anomaly.

"Giving birth is a powerful experience both physically and mentally, and a variety of emotions are present," The University of Eastern Finland wrote in a statement. The scientists noted that while the symptoms for some mothers were minor, other women struggled with symptoms severe enough to affect their ability to care for the child, which could in turn impact the child's long-term development.

Besides a history of depression, identifying risk factors for postpartum depression has long been difficult for researchers. According to the new study, a fear of childbirth is one contributor that may have been previously overlooked. Physicians that are aware of the link, the researchers concluded, are better equipped to recognize postpartum depression in their patients.

According to the Mayo Clinic, postpartum depression symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite

  • Insomnia

  • Intense irritability and anger

  • Overwhelming fatigue

  • Loss of interest in sex

  • Lack of joy in life

  • Feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy

  • Severe mood swings

  • Difficulty bonding with your baby

  • Withdrawal from family and friends

  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.

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