Annals of Indian Psychiatry

: 2018  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 41--42

Postpartum depression: Risk factors and their management

Sharmishtha Shailesh Deshpande 
 Department of Psychiatry, Smt. Kashibai Navale Medical College and General Hospital, Pune, Maharashtra, India

Correspondence Address:
Sharmishtha Shailesh Deshpande
Department of Psychiatry, Smt. Kashibai Navale Medical College and General Hospital, Narhe, Pune - 411 041, Maharashtra

How to cite this article:
Deshpande SS. Postpartum depression: Risk factors and their management.Ann Indian Psychiatry 2018;2:41-42

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Deshpande SS. Postpartum depression: Risk factors and their management. Ann Indian Psychiatry [serial online] 2018 [cited 2023 Mar 23 ];2:41-42
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Full Text

Postpartum period is one of the most important periods in the life of mother and baby. Biological, psychological and social factors operate in a combined way, resulting in various mental health problems occurring at this stage. In addition to physical stress, significant psychosocial stress is experienced by the mother. Mother or rather both parents are often not adequately prepared for the new tasks in some or the other way. There are educative parental training programs started recently though they are often inadequate.

 Risk Factors

A recent Indian study [1] has reported common occurrence of mild-to-moderate postpartum depression in up to 20% women. More susceptibility was reported in the presence of prior history of depression, less family support, pregnancy and delivery-related complications, presence of other life adversities including family problems, and birth of baby girl as undesirable gender baby. Similar observations are reiterated by other Indian studies.[2],[3],[4]

Most of these risk factors can be successfully dealt with by educative and counseling work so as to anticipate the difficulties and plan for solutions in advance. Childbirth is a stressful life event, but the couple can anticipate the stresses at least 6 months in advance and thus have time to work on it. In their prospective study, Patel et al.[4] have reported the occurrence of mental health problems during pregnancy itself. Awareness on part of clinicians, patients, and their relatives is necessary, so that they can identify the risk for postpartum depression and work toward its prevention.

Social and cultural beliefs about postpartum period in India are often based on Ayurveda and other age old traditions. A woman usually enjoys special attention and care received from other family members and can rest for sufficient period.

Adequate physical care is often provided and they mostly enjoy a nutritious diet. Postpartum lack of care/neglect is emotionally traumatic for women and has lasting impact on their mental health. This has been reported in a cultural epidemiological study by Paralikar et al.[5] Pregnancy and menstruation related problems were reported as perceived cause for medically unexplained fatigue and weakness by almost half of the ladies even after many years of childbirth. Poor interpersonal relationships and unavailability of adequate support often turn out be harmful for the female's physical and mental health.

With recent sociocultural change and emergence of nuclear families, social and emotional support has declined.[3] This along with increased work responsibilities can increase the stress in postpartum period for a female. Postpartum depression is common in developed and developing countries and rural and urban areas, and we know that it is due to psychobiological vulnerability of the female in this stage of life.[3],[4],[6]

In some families, gender bias continues to persist. Baby of undesired gender continues to remain as one of the risk factors for postpartum depression. Research studies from Karnataka, Goa, and Tamil Nadu have reported this gender bias.[6],[4],[7] Due to various social and cultural reasons, gender bias persists even in well-educated families. Gender bias viewing females negatively is most likely to cause neglect of maternal health, which in turn will negatively affect the infant's health. This interrelationship between maternal and infant mental health is often not recognized by family members.

Depression in males and females is qualitatively different. Perceived stresses and precipitating causes for depression were found to be significantly different in one of the research studies.[8] Women being more sensitive to interpersonal and emotional stresses could also be more vulnerable in the postpartum period. This is the time when supports and resources of various kinds have to be mobilized; couple relationship is too under stress and interference of significant others is also increased.

 Long Term Impact

Impact and long-term effects of postpartum depression are significant. Apart from hazardous complications due to suicidal and infanticide ideation, damage caused to maternal and infant mental health and relationship is a reason to worry. Although the mother knows various health benefits of breastfeeding, the presence of depressive symptoms may adversely affect breastfeeding of the infant. Hatton et al. assessed the correlation between depressive symptoms and continuation of breastfeeding at 6 and 12 weeks postpartum.[9],[10]

There is a high risk of child abuse and neglect. Long-term impairment of the mother–child relationship and psychiatric or learning disorders are also seen in the children of mothers with postpartum depression.[11],[12] Thus, this benign and apparently self-limiting depression should be effectively managed.


There is huge research work done in various disciplines such as psychiatry, pediatrics, obstetrics, and nursing care with respect to breastfeeding and maternal outcomes in mothers with postpartum depression.[10],[11],[12] However, in practice, we hardly see cases of mild-to-moderate postpartum depression being referred to the psychiatrist. Only some patients with severe postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis are referred to psychiatrists. Most of the patients with mild-to-moderate depression remain untreated. The large numbers of women having postpartum depression as quoted in various studies continue to suffer silently with their young ones.

Management of postpartum depression is often successful with or without pharmacotherapy. However, there are various obstacles in patients reaching the psychiatrist and taking treatment. Patients, their relatives, as well as members of the medical team are hesitant in accepting psychiatric drug treatment. Concern for ill effects of antidepressants on the baby is more powerful, as one fails to consider effects of untreated depression on baby's future mental health.[13],[14] Negative lasting impact on interpersonal interactions can be triggered on account of gender-related issues and distorted cognition due to postpartum depression.

Unhappy marriage is another important factor. Entire family needs to be positively prepared for arrival, which needs to be addressed before arrival of the baby of either sex baby, each member knowing his/her responsibility. Family counseling along with couple counseling is deemed essential in the Indian setting.

 Possible Solutions

Obstetrician's awareness about signs and symptoms of depression along with importance of its treatment is of utmost importance. Myths about side effects of antidepressants and harmful effects of nontreatment should be known to clinicians, patients, and their relatives. Nonpharmacological treatments could also be effective and should be tried by psychiatrists. Long-term positive effect of building a happy and mentally healthy family should be aimed at jointly by patient and clinicians. Primary prevention of postpartum depression is likely to be possible with this integrated approach for mental health.


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