’Substantial’ number of new mothers experience anxiety, depression and stress 1 year ago

’Substantial’ number of new mothers experience anxiety, depression and stress

More needs to be done when it comes to the care new mums receive.

A newly published study from Trinity’s School of Nursing and Midwifery has looked at depression, anxiety and stress symptoms experienced by first-time mothers in Ireland – from pregnancy throughout the first postpartum year.

The MAMMI study (Maternal health And Maternal Morbidity in Ireland) is a multi-strand, longitudinal study which has collected information on the health and health problems of over 3,000 first-time mothers giving birth in Ireland.

As per today, no national database exists to collect information about women’s mental health during pregnancy and postpartum in Ireland.  A handful of studies conducted in specific hospitals/units, or by individual researchers, may only look for example at only depression during pregnancy, or depression and anxiety up until six weeks postpartum.

Although these individual studies are useful, it can be challenging to understand what is really happening with women, the changes in their mental health over time, and the longer-term development or resolution of perinatal mental health problems. The mental health data from the MAMMI study is therefore invaluable as it covers pregnancy and the entire first postpartum year and reports information about stress and anxiety as well as depression.

"Every time we see findings like this, we have to think about all of the women who shared their information with us – many of these women are suffering – unnecessarily and often in silence," says Déirdre Daly, Associate Professor in Midwifery, School of Nursing and Midwifery and co-author of the MAMMI study.

Key findings

  • 9.5% of women (one in ten women) reported symptoms of moderate to severe anxiety symptoms (First year postpartum).
  • 14. 2% (one in seven women) reported moderate to severe depression symptoms (First year postpartum).
  • 19.2% (one in five women) reported moderate to severe stress symptoms in the first year after having their first baby.
  • Depression and stress symptoms measured the lowest during pregnancy but increased after birth at 3 months and were at the highest at 6 months postpartum. Depression and stress dropped a little at 9 months postpartum and then increased again at one year postpartum.
  • Women more likely to report symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress postpartum were younger, born in a non-EU country, did not live with a partner, did not have a postgraduate education and were unemployed during their pregnancy.

"Women are not supported by the maternity care system"

Speaking on the findings and the implications for clinical care,  Susan Hannon, PhD candidate and mental health researcher at the School of Nursing and Midwifery and senior author, Trinity said:

"At the moment, maternal healthcare stops at 6-weeks postpartum. But our research shows that a substantial number of women are experiencing clinical-level symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress well beyond this period of service provision. This means that women are not supported by a maternity care system that can detect and offer timely treatment to women who need it."

She added:

"Women who experience mental health problems in motherhood have to seek out treatment for themselves, and that can be a very difficult call for a woman to make. Women would really benefit from postpartum healthcare that can support them for longer."

Researchers believe that despite more conversations around mental health taking place – which in turn help to break the stigma and silence that surround mental health problems – it is important to keep in mind that there are additional aspects of stigma for a mother who is experiencing a mental health problem.

Women worry about how they will be perceived by their family and communities for experiencing a mental health problem during a time that society largely regards as a time of happiness and joy.

The published study: Maternal mental health in the first year postpartum in a large Irish population cohort: the MAMMI study can be viewed here: https://bit.ly/3vFgLqq<