Postnatal depression (PND) is a debilitating condition that affects between 10-20% of Australian mothers. Several factors have been found to be predictive of PND, including a higher rate of obstetric interventions, having a caesarean birth, as well as suffering from depression and anxiety during or immediately prior to pregnancy.

However, while a number of studies have examined the predictors of PND, most have focused on events immediately prior to pregnancy and birth. The aim of this study was to examine both short- and long-term risk factors for PND using data collected before, during, and after pregnancy. The study used data from women born 1973-78, who had completed the first four surveys from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health from 1996-2006.

  • The strongest predictor of PND was a history of depression; compared with women who had not reported depression, women who reported depression 3 or 6 years prior to pregnancy were more than twice as likely to experience PND.
  • Stressful life events reported both six years prior to, and at the time of the fourth survey were related to future PND, while women who had less affectionate support/positive social interaction were also at higher risk.
  • Contrary to other studies, demographic factors, including ability to manage on income, area of residence and education level were not associated with PND.

The findings suggest that PND has both short- and long-term risk factors. It is important that healthcare providers are aware of the range of factors that may increase the risk of PND in order to allow for a more targeted detection of women who may develop the condition.

Citation: Chojenta C, Loxton D, Lucke J (2012). How do previous mental health, social support, and stressful life events contribute to postnatal depression in a representative sample of Australian women? Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health, 57(2), 145-150.

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