Postnatal depression: study finds time for mum reduces risk

How depressive symptoms are associated with time for self.

woman's hands holding a cup of tea and resting on a book

What was the study about?

The study analysed data from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute’s Maternal Health Study. It specifically compared depressive symptoms with the amount of time mothers had for themselves each week. The study evaluated questionnaire data using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. The scale is an internationally recognised 10-item questionnaire used as a screening tool for postnatal depression.

Who participated in the study?

The study analysed data from 1500 women who completed questionnaires at six months following childbirth.

What were the results?

The study found that at six months following childbirth almost 1 in 10 women reported depressive symptoms that indicated major clinical depression. In addition, there was a clear association between the time that women had for themselves and the depressive symptoms. For example, amongst the women who reported having time for themselves once a week or more, less than six per cent reported depressive symptoms. For women who only had time for themselves less than fortnightly, the number with depressive symptoms climbed to 10 per cent. Of the women who had no time to themselves, around 15 per cent had depressive symptoms.  

The researchers thought that the association might also be due to other factors such as maternal age, relationship status and practical and emotional support. Even after adjusting for these other factors, however, there was still a relationship between the amount of time for one self and depressive symptoms.

The types of activities that women reported as time for themselves included grocery shopping (57 per cent); going out with their partner (47 per cent); having a long bath or shower (42 per cent); going to the hairdresser or beautician (37 per cent); and relaxing, putting their feet up and watching TV (36 per cent).

What do the results mean for women?

We might at first be surprised that grocery shopping is considered time for self, but this study demonstrates that it is not necessarily the activity, but the fact that someone else is taking responsibility for the baby during that time. It also tells us that even if women have a lot of practical and emotional support, it is still important they have time for themselves either alone or with their partner.

The study means that we might need to think more about how as friends and family we can support new mothers in that crucial six months after giving birth. While taking around a meal is really helpful and no doubt appreciated, maybe minding baby while a new mum nips down to the local coffee shop would also be beneficial. Similarly, we often promote the convenience of grocery shopping online, but maybe it is not for everyone. Trying to complete an online grocery order and tend to baby at the same time is perhaps not as helpful as being able to go the grocery store in person, alone.

Women’s Health recognise the need for women to look after themselves as well as baby and have outlined different aspects in a booklet, Looking After You: A New Mum’s Guide to Feeling Great. The Looking after You booklet specifically addresses ways that women can eat well and incorporate physical activity into their day-to-day routine. In relation to the study, providing women with time to do some form of physical activity on their own would be ideal as it would help with both their physical and mental health. Call 3216 0976 or 1800 017 676 (toll free outside Brisbane) for a free copy of the updated booklet or download it here: http://goo.gl/fh7ZvU

Last updated: March 2016

© Women's Health Queensland Wide. This study summary was reviewed by the Women's Health Queensland Wide editorial committee. It was published in Health Journey 2016 Issue 1.

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