The days and months following the birth of a child should be a joyous time for a new mother. This should be especially so for women who have long struggled to conceive, and have had to use assisted reproductive technologies (ART) to help them do so. Sadly, the storybook joy associated with new motherhood is often just that -- a story. Postpartum depression is the serious clinical disorder that affects new mothers in the period of days and months following the birth. A new study suggests that mothers who received ART are almost four times more likely to experience postpartum depression than those who have conceived naturally.
Once dismissed as little more than the baby blues, the medical establishment now considers postpartum depression to be a problem that requires aggressive treatment. There have been numerous high profile media stories about the ravages of postpartum depression, and an increase in the number of older mothers and the prevalence of caesarean section births appears to have dramatically increased the incidence rate. About one in 10 new mothers experience postpartum depression proper, and need to be treated with anti-depressants, psychotherapy or a combination of the two. The disorder is typically caused by the hormonal changes that occur after the birth, and may run in families. Typically, those suffering from postpartum depression feel no connection to their child, and believe that they cannot cope and will not make an adequate parent. These feelings become so severe that they inhibit the new mother's ability to function.
An Australian study, just published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, sought to establish whether there was a link between postpartum depression and mothers who used ART. They analyzed the case records of 700 women who were treated for the symptoms of postpartum depression. Some 526 of these women listed their mode of conception, and the researchers noted that six per cent of ART births resulted in some form of mood disorder, compared to 1.5 per cent of natural births. In-vitro fertilization techniques are very often performed on older women and result in a greater number of C-section deliveries -- two factors also thought to contribute to incidence rates of postpartum depression.
The researchers concede that there are more studies to be done on why exactly mothers who use ART are more likely than the general population to have some form of mood disorder post birth. They suggest that those who receive fertility treatment may be unprepared for the realities of motherhood, given that they have focused their attention on conception. Furthermore, ART combined with surgery may have inhibit the mother's ability to bond with the newborn child. Also, mothers who received ART may also be less likely to complain because they desired the birth so highly.
Whatever the reasons, the data suggests that women receiving ART should be especially cognisant of their mood changes after the birth of their child, and seek help immediately if any of the symptoms of postpartum depression arise.