• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Thursday 06th December, 2007

Results of treating postpartum depression are – in a word – depressing

Postpartum depression is not rare; nor is it trivial for being so common. Nearly one in five women experience major or minor depression in the first three months after giving birth. And their children are at greater risk for developing emotional or behavior problems than other children. Therapy can help those who struggle. What isn’t clear is whether their children benefit from the therapy too. In other words: if you can help the mother to be happier, will the child do better in the long run? This is the question that prompted a US study of depressed new mothers and their children.Headed by David Forman of Concordia University, Montreal, the research team recruited 120 women diagnosed with postpartum depression to participate. Half were randomly selected to receive 12 weeks of interpersonal therapy. The other half did not receive any therapy. The researchers observed participants with their children before and after treatment and surveyed the mothers about their emotional adjustment and the behavior of their children. What they found was – well, depressing. The therapy appeared to help reduce stress in the mothers’ lives. However, while treated mothers reported significantly less stress than non-treated mothers, the treated still experienced more stress than those who were not depressed. Even more disappointing, it didn’t seem to help the children that their mothers were less stressed-out. The treatment did not improve children’s temperament, behavior problems or the quality of their relationships with their mothers.At the end of their report in Development and Psychopathology, the researchers wonder if the therapy failed to help the children because it didn’t focus specifically on the mother-child relationship. They also note that there might be a genetic connection between mothers who are biologically at risk for postpartum depression and their problematic children. Were this the case, therapy would not help to improve the children’s prospects. Certainly more research is needed to clarify why the children of mothers with postpartum depression are at risk for a variety of problems. What is clear is that treating their mothers is not an adequate solution.Summary of “Effective Treatment For Postpartum Depression Is Not Sufficient To Improve The Developing Mother–Child Relationship” by David R. Forman, Michael W. O’Hara, Scott Stuart, Laura L. Gorman, Karin E. Larsen, and Katherine C. Coy in Development and Psychopathology, Volume 19, Issue 2, 2007, pp 585–602.

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