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:: New Postnatal Depression Study

New Postnatal Depression Study

Settling a crying baby

TEACHING new parents how to settle their crying baby and manage changes to their relationship halves the chance of postnatal depression, research shows.

An intervention program which aimed to reduce postnatal depression has halved the incidence of depression and anxiety in women with no history of psychiatric problems in the first six months after giving birth.

The results of the study “What Were We Thinking?” was presented at the Australasian Marcé Society and Australian Association for Infant Mental Health Inc. 2OO9 Joint Conference held at the University of Melbourne.

The Marcé Society takes its name from Louis Victor Marcé who published the first substantial treatise on mental illness in pregnancy and the puerperium in 1858.

The Society was formed in the UK in 1980 and has a growing international membership. The formation of the Australasian Branch of the Marcé in 1995 was a reflection of the growing commitment and enthusiasm within Australasia towards these issues.

The Marcé Society is multi-disciplinary and provides a forum for exchange of information and ideas between professionals concerned with the welfare of women and their families around the time of childbirth.

Increasingly, liaison between consumers/carers and health professionals is becoming a focus for the Society, as is the childbirth-related mental health of the Indigenous Peoples of Australia and New Zealand.

Melbourne University researchers recruited 400 new mothers and their partners to test whether specific lessons when their babies are one-month-old protected them from postnatal depression and anxiety.

Parents and postnatal depressionThe mothers were split into two groups. One attended a half-day seminar with their partners, where they were encouraged to negotiate the workload of having a baby and to talk about issues that had arisen in their relationships. They were also taught methods for settling their babies. The other group did not attend.

When the mothers were followed up six months later, those who had attended the seminars had half the rate of diagnosed anxiety, depression and adjustment disorders.

Of the 107 women who attended the program, 15 per cent were diagnosed with one of these problems, compared with 29 per cent of the 125 women in the other group. None of these women had a history of mental illness. One of the researchers, Associate Professor Jane Fisher, said the results showed that women were not always ''born to be mothers'', but rather needed to learn how to care for their babies and themselves after childbirth.

She said lessons in how to stop a baby crying and establish sustainable routines were often neglected in hospitals after birth and when mothers went home.

''It can be an awful experience to be confined with a crying baby at home when nothing you do seems to work. It corrodes maternal confidence,'' she said.

All participants completed telephone interviews four weeks and six months after the baby’s birth. At six months this included the Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI) to assess whether they had experienced depression, anxiety or an adjustment disorder. Anonymous surveys completed by those who attended the intervention program indicated that most found the material highly relevant to their needs, that their knowledge about unsettled infant behaviour was increased and that their confidence had improved.

The results revealed that in women who had no prior history of mental health problems, those who attended the intervention program, had less than half the incidence of depression, anxiety and adjustment disorders than in those who had only received standard care.

Postnatal Depression“These results reveal how a small group education program targeting factors not addressed before, such as infant soothing and settling and day to day interactions in partner relationships, can be very successful in reducing the incidence of mild to moderate post natal depression and anxiety in new mothers.”

Dr Heather Rowe, co-investigator of the study and also of the Key Centre for Women’s Health in Society says the study has helped to show how post natal depression is not accurately described as a problem of individual woman but rather reflects the quality of her close relationships.

The study was funded by the Australian Government, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

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