NIH study finds postpartum depression could persist 3 years after childbirth

postpartum depression
© Katarzyna Bialasiewicz

A new NIH study has found that 1 in 4 women experienced high levels of postpartum depression at some point in the three years after giving birth

The study, conducted by researchers at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), examined 5,000 women who demonstrated some level of depressive symptoms throughout the three-year span.

The researchers analysed data from the Upstate KIDS study, which included babies born between 2008 and 2010 from 57 counties in New York State.

Gestational diabetes increases risk

They assessed women’s symptoms through a brief questionnaire but did not provide a clinically diagnose. Those with underlying conditions, such as mood disorders and/or gestational diabetes, were more likely to have higher levels of depressive symptoms.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that paediatricians screen mothers for postpartum depression at well-child visits up to six months after childbirth but researchers suggest that extending the screening for postpartum depression for at least 2 years after childbirth may be beneficial.

Diane Putnick, Ph.D., the primary author and a staff scientist in the NICHD Epidemiology Branch, said: “Our study indicates that six months may not be long enough to gauge depressive symptoms. These long-term data are key to improving our understanding of mum’s mental health, which we know is critical to her child’s well-being and development.”

The researchers noted that the study participants were primarily white, non-Hispanic women. “Future studies should include a more diverse, broad population to provide more inclusive data on postpartum depression”, Dr. Putnick said.


The study appears in the journal Pediatrics.

Putnick, D, et al. Trajectories of Postpartum Depressive Symptoms. Pediatrics. September 2020.

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