A new study has found that the risk of women developing postnatal depression (PND), also known as postpartum depression, is significantly higher for women who give birth to boys compared to girls. However, as the authors point out, this isn’t bad news as identifying risk factors earlier means better postnatal support for the women who need it.
The researchers from the University of Kent in the UK discovered that women who gave birth to boys were between 71 and 79 percent more likely to develop postnatal depression. They also found that new mothers were 174 percent more likely to develop PND if they experienced complications during birth, compared to those who didn't.
However, women who either had previously identified mental health concerns or a tendency to experience the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress – despite having an increased risk of developing depression-related conditions like PND – actually had reduced odds of developing it after experiencing complications. The researchers say this is because the extra support needed for these women was already at hand thanks to already knowing they were high risk.
Which is really the crux of this study: the more we know earlier, the more informed help and support can be supplied.
PND affects one in 10 women, and can manifest in a variety of ways, including sadness, restlessness, anxiety, lack of energy, decreased concentration, unable to bond with your baby, and withdrawing from human contact, among others – but it is treatable.
“PND is a condition that is avoidable, and it has been shown that giving women at risk extra help and support can make it less likely to develop,” said co-author Dr Sarah Johns in a statement.
“The finding that having a baby boy or a difficult birth increases a woman's risk gives health practitioners two new and easy ways to identify women who would particularly benefit from additional support in the first few weeks and months.”
The study, published in Social Science and Medicine, looked into the possible link between the sex of the baby born and the likelihood of developing PND, building on the evidence that there is an association between developing depressive symptoms and inflammatory immune responses.
Both the gestation of male fetuses and complications of birth are known to increase inflammation, but this link to PND had not been clear until now. The researchers hope their addition to the evidence of the link between inflammatory pathways and depressive symptoms will help identify new risk factors in the future.
For now, they stress the importance of taking these two new risk factors – having boys, and experiencing complications during birth – both of which can be easily identified and assessed, and utilizing them to ensure that healthcare professionals are as prepared as possible to help and support women who are at a higher risk of developing PND, which actually significantly reduces the likelihood of them developing it.