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The authors of a new study into maternal depression said their findings make a "compelling" case for a rethink in approaches to how to support mothers.
Dr Hannah Woolhouse, psychologist and senior research officer said:
It is likely that current systems of maternal mental health surveillance in Australia and the UK will miss more than half the women experiencing depression in the early years of parenting.
In particular, women who do not have subsequent children may be especially vulnerable to falling through the gaps as they will not be reconnected back into primary care services.
There also needs to be a focus on social health and relationships as we have found a strong link between depressive symptoms and intimate partner violence.
A new study of maternal health has found that depression is more common when a child is four after a first birth than at any time during the first 12 months of a baby's life. The study evaluated 1,507 women at three, six, 12, 18 months and four years after giving birth.
Researchers were alarmed to find that women with only one child at four years after birth showed significantly higher levels of depression than women with one or two children.
Contributing factors reported were:
- Reporting depressive symptoms either in early pregnancy, or in the first 12 months after childbirth
- Being a young mother, aged 18-24
- Stressful life events in the year before the four year follow-up
- Violence from a partner
- Low income
But at four years after giving birth, 40% of women reporting depressive symptoms had not previously reported this.
Depression is more common in first-time mothers when the child is four years old than at any time during the 12 months after giving birth, according to a major new study from Australia.
The research shows almost one in three first-time mothers reported depressive symptoms at least once between pregnancy and four years after giving birth.
Carina Gordon, 25 and from Romsey in Hampshire, had depression in pregnancy while expecting her first child.
Speaking after research exposed the lack of care and awareness surrounding the disease, Ms Gordon explained how she "hid" her depression.
About four months into the pregnancy I just started feeling angry, but I shrugged it off thinking it was just hormones playing up.
However, it only got worse - I felt like I was going mad.
Most of the time I just hid it. I would cry in the car, as that was my private time. Eventually I told a bank midwife, who said I would be referred for treatment but no follow-up ever took place.
Up to one in seven women experience a mental health problem in pregnancy or after birth.
There is "a real danger" postnatal depression is on the increase because new mums are pressured to "look, act and feel perfect", warned the founder of a parents advice service.
Sally Russell, the co-founder of Netmums, warned postnatal depression took its toll on the whole family.
Depression during or post pregnancy can be dreadful for the mother - but the condition affects the whole family as well.
The illness robs families of what should be one of the happiest times of their lives as they welcome a new arrival.
It's clear to see that as society changes with longer working hours, fewer families living close together and the relentless media pressure for new mums to look, act and feel perfect, that there is a real danger incidences of this illness could be on the increase.
Three quarters of women suffering from postnatal depression felt unable to tell a health worker they were struggling, research has found.
A poll lead by Netmums, quizzed 1,500 women who had suffered from postnatal depression, 40% of which said they did not receive treatment for their problems.
- Some 34% did not disclose for fear that they would have their baby taken away from them.
- A further 31% were put off because they saw different midwifes or health visitors at their appointments.