Those who have had babies know the extreme distress of the first few weeks.
You’re home from the hospital, but everything has changed.
There’s no longer just the two of you — now you are three and the third one depends entirely upon you.
The stress and anxiety of caring for a newborn for the first time cannot be underestimated — though it appears health-care workers and the public might have done just that.
An enormous research project looking into mental problems of new parents was recently conducted in Denmark, and has astounded health workers all over the world.
The study, published in the American magazine Journal of the American Medical Association, shows that young mothers are at a much greater risk for mental problems than other people, and not just postpartum depression.
The risk is particularly high in the first 10 to 19 days.
The study looked into the records of 2.3 million Danes over a 30-year period.
This makes it one of the largest studies of psychiatric illnesses after childbirth, an astounding accomplishment for a country of only 5.4 million people.
The authors went through data on residents of Denmark from 1973 to 2005 when about 1.1 million participants became parents.
Of 1,171 new mothers 658 were hospitalized with a mental disorder after childbirth. None of them had been diagnosed with mental illness prior to becoming parents.
New fathers don’t face as large a threat. The scientists say this is most likely because they don’t undergo the same physical and social changes that come with pregnancy and childbirth.
The mothers undergo dramatic physical changes after childbirth, including drastic hormone fluctuations.
These, along with sleep deprivation and the demand of breastfeeding, as well as societal expectations, could trigger mental problems, said lead author Trine Munk-Olsen, a researcher at Denmark’s University of Aarhus.
The first 10 to 19 days presented the greatest risk to the women. Scientists suppose this is because that’s when the reality of the new responsibility settles in.
During these days, new mothers were found to be seven times more likely to be hospitalized due to mental problems than mothers with older infants.
When compared to women without children, the new mothers were four times more likely to be hospitalized due to mental illnesses.
On the other hand, new fathers showed no increase in mental problems when compared both to fathers of older infants and men without children.
The problems examined in the study included postpartum depression, bipolar disorder (manic depression), schizophrenia and adjustment disorders, which include unbearable anxiety.
The study was published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“Mental health is crucial to a mother’s capacity to function optimally, enjoy relationships, prepare for the infant’s birth, and cope with the stresses and appreciate the joys of parenthood,” says in the magazine’s editorial, which discusses the findings.
Trine Munk-Olsen said it’s likely the problems new Danish parents face also affect new parents in other developed countries, but different screening practices and health-care systems might create difference in numbers over hospitalizations.
Postpartum depression by itself affects about 15 per cent of American women, says an Associated Press article.
Sigrún María Kristinsdóttir is an Icelandic/Canadian writer, who until recently lived in the Yukon, but now resides in Reykjavík. She can be reached at email@example.com.