TUESDAY, Dec. 5, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Women who have recently given birth to their first child have a higher risk of hospitalization for mental disorders, such as depression, than other women.
But, new fathers don't seem to share a similar increased risk of serious mental illness after the birth of their first child.
Those are just two of the findings from a 22-year study, published in the Dec. 6 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, that followed more than 2 million Danish-born adults throughout their lifetimes.
"Our study shows that women are particularly at risk of hospital admission for mental disorders just after having become a mother for the first time," said the study's lead author, Trine Munk-Olsen, a doctoral student at the National Centre for Register-Based Research at the University of Aarhus in Denmark.
"New fathers, however, do not appear to be at risk," she added. This suggests that hormonal fluctuations likely play a role in these disorders.
Depression after the birth of a child is very common in women, affecting up to 15 percent of new mothers, according to background information for the study. Other serious mental illnesses, while not as prevalent, may also affect new mothers in greater numbers. The study reports that postpartum psychosis, a serious mental disorder that can put both the baby and mother at risk for physical harm, affects about one woman out of every 1,000 births.
Munk-Olsen and her colleagues noted that most previous studies of first-time mothers hadn't looked for other mental disorders, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Additionally, few studies have looked at the impact of new parenthood on a father's mental health.
To assess the risk of all psychiatric illnesses severe enough to require hospitalization in both mothers and fathers, the researchers gathered information from Danish health and civil-service registers. These registers contained information on 2,357,942 adults born in Denmark. The researchers included information from 1973 through 2005.
During that time period, 630,373 women and 547,431 men became parents for the first time.
Of those new parents, 1,171 women and 658 men had to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital at some point during the first 12 months of their child's life. Overall, the risk of hospitalization for mental illness was 1.03 per 1,000 births for women and 0.37 per 1,000 births for men within three months of the birth of a child.
Women who had given birth within the last three months were more than seven times as likely to be hospitalized, compared to women who had given birth 11 months to 12 months earlier. Women who had given birth within the previous three months were also more than twice as likely to seek outpatient mental-health care. The highest risk occurred at 10 days to 19 days after birth.
"This study is important because it replicates the findings of earlier research," said Dr. Dorothy Sit, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and one of the authors of an accompanying editorial in the journal.
"Women need to get treatment immediately. Although depression may resolve between six and nine months spontaneously, the consequences are wide-ranging," she explained. "Depression impairs not only the mother's function, not only socially and at work, but it can impact her relationship with her newborn and her other children."
She said women, their families and their health-care providers need to be aware of the increased risk of depression and other disorders following the birth of a first child.
In particular, Sit said, women who've had past depression are at increased risk. Symptoms to watch for include: a loss of interest in the baby or in other once-pleasurable activities; feeling down or depressed; changes in sleep patterns; thoughts of wanting to die; new onset of anxiety or thoughts of wanting to harm one's self or others.
"Be ready to seek treatment sooner rather than later," Sit advised, adding there are both medical and non-medical options for the treatment of psychiatric disorders, and there are medications thought to be safe for breast-feeding mothers.
To learn more about depression and pregnancy, visit the U.S. National Women's Health Information Center.