Well-Being Mental Health

Family history of psychiatric disorders increases risk of postpartum depression: study

“Growing up in an environment with parents struggling with mental health problems potentially influences the social support received from these parents when going into motherhood.”
Pregnant woman holding stomach.
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Story at a glance


  • Postpartum depression affects between 10 and 15 percent of new mothers, while demand for care will likely increase as more women must carry unwanted pregnancies to term following the overturn of Roe v. Wade. 

  • New research published in JAMA Psychiatry found any familial history of psychiatric disorders almost doubles the risk of new mothers experiencing postpartum depression.

  • Researchers suggest identifying those at heightened risk via a questionnaire could better target interventions and mitigate poor health outcomes. 

A new review of 26 studies including more than 100,800 women found the risk of developing postpartum depression is nearly double when individuals’ families have a history of psychiatric disorders. 

Findings were published Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry. Postpartum depression affects between 10 and 15 percent of new mothers and can range from mild to severe episodes. The condition is also one of the most common childbirth complications, while demand for care will likely increase as more women carry unwanted pregnancies to term due to the overturning of Roe v Wade

However, postpartum depression is preventable and treatable, highlighting the importance of early detection and identification of at-risk populations. 

In the current review, researchers assessed studies where postpartum depression onset occurred within 0 and 12 months of giving birth. Studies included populations spanning Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America, while any history of family members with psychiatric conditions was largely ascertained using self-reported questionnaires. 


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Although several reviews have previously found no link between familial history and postpartum depression, “our findings are supported through studies of heritability of psychiatric disorders within, but especially outside, the postpartum period, indicating family history of psychiatric disorders is a strong risk factor for developing psychiatric episodes,” authors wrote.

Researchers were unable to investigate why such a link may exist, but they hypothesized it could be due to genetic and environmental factors during childhood and later in life. 

“Growing up in an environment with parents struggling with mental health problems potentially influences the social support received from these parents when going into motherhood,” they added. 

The findings also support the potential use of questionnaires in clinical settings when determining a mother’s risk for postpartum depression. The assessment could even be carried out prior to conception, allowing for a window to better prepare preventive efforts for at-risk women. 

Researchers were unable to determine which specific psychiatric disorders among first or second degree relatives were associated with a greater or lower risk of developing postpartum depression.  However, because of social stigma accompanying self-reported psychiatric conditions, they note the association might be stronger than that reported.