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Thursday, 2 August, 2001, 23:10 GMT 00:10 UK
Depression in pregnancy 'common'
More attention should be paid to depression in pregnancy, researchers say
More attention should be paid to depression in pregnancy, researchers say
Women are more likely to become depressed while pregnant than after their babies are born, research suggests.

Scientists found the peak for depression was 32 weeks into pregnancy, close to birth.

The unborn child may also be affected, as for example, a rise in stress hormones could lead to low birth weight.

The researchers are calling for more recognition and treatment for antenatal depression.


This shows that antenatal depression is clearly as important as, and possibly more so, than postnatal depression

Dr Jonathan Evans,
University of Bristol
Dr Jonathan Evans, who led the study, told BBC News Online: "The message is 'don't be surprised if someone is depressed during pregnancy'. There is an assumption that one just blooms and it's important to recognise that might not be the case."

Postnatal depression has been a recognised problem for many years, with an estimated one in 10 women suffering from the condition.

Severe postnatal depression can lead to family break-up, neglect of the child and suicide - and emotional and behavioural problems in the child.

There has been relatively little research into the consequences of antenatal depression.

However, this latest piece of research suggests the severity and nature of depression are the same whether it occurs before of after a woman has given birth.

Assessment

The study looked at over 9,000 women in the Avon area, whose babies were due between April 1 1991 and December 31 1992.

Clinically approved scales for measuring depression were used to asses women at 18 weeks and 32 weeks into pregnancy, and eight weeks and eight months after their child was born.

The researchers found the average scores recorded were higher during pregnancy than after the births.

The proportion of women with probable depression was 11.8% at 18 weeks, rising to 13.5% at 32 weeks.

That fell to 9.1% at eight weeks after the birth, and 8.1% at eight months.

In the paper, published in the British Medical Journal, the authors admit the women's assessment of whether they were depressed was not the same as a clinical diagnosis.

But they add: "The consequences of antenatal depression are not well understood."

They say there may be benefits in screening and treating depression during pregnancy, though admit there are concerns about the widespread use of antidepressants.

And they call for more work to be done on the consequences of antenatal depression for both mother and baby.

Importance

Dr Evans, a senior lecturer in psychiatry at the University of Bristol, said: "This shows that antenatal depression is clearly as important as, and possibly more so, than postnatal depression."

Sue Baker, a spokeswoman for MIND, said the mental health charity had received calls from women in the latter stages of pregnancy who were looking for support, but found no groups targeted at them.

She said raised awareness would benefit pregnant women.

"Depression is a stigmatised condition anyway, and if there's no-one to talk to and if no-one recognises the condition, that's even more difficult."

Dr Mary Nolan of the National Childbirth Trust, an expert in antenatal care, told BBC News Online: "It may be that it's in a way normal to have a low trough in pregnancy. It's the most enormous life-changing event imaginable. Thirty-two weeks is when the reality of it is hitting home in a particularly vivid way."

She added that over the last 10 - 15 years, the number of tests and lifestyle advice pregnant women faced could well have increased the anxiety associated with pregnancy.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"Depression... happens most often around seven months"
See also:

02 Aug 01 | Health
New mothers 'neglected'
21 Jun 01 | Health
Post-natal depression
04 May 99 | Health
Men suffer from baby blues
18 May 00 | Health
Diary of a new mother
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