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Last updated on April 17, 2014 at 8:38 EDT

Post-Miscarriage Depression Can Persist, Says Study

March 3, 2011

The depression and anxiety that result after a woman has a miscarriage can persist for many years, even if the mother goes on to have healthy offspring, according to a new study published online Thursday by the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Using the University of Bristol’s Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) as a basis for their studies, Dr. Emma Robertson Blackmore of the University of Rochester Medical Center and her colleagues analyzed more than 13,000 pregnant women, asking them to report the number of previous miscarriages or stillbirths they had experienced and assessing them for signs of anxiety or depression twice during their pregnancies and four times afterwards.

What they discovered that there was, in the words of a University of Bristol press release, “no evidence that mental health problems associated with miscarriage or stillbirth end with the birth of a healthy baby.”

“Instead, women may continue to experience symptoms for several years after the postnatal period,” the statement continued, adding that the researchers discovered that “women who had lost a baby in the past experienced significantly higher levels of anxiety and depression during pregnancy–and this continued nearly three years after they gave birth to a healthy baby.”

The participants were assessed for depression and anxiety at the 18 week and 32 week periods of their pregnancy, as well as the 8 week, 8 month, 21 month, and 33 month periods after giving birth. A total of 13,133 women participated in the study, with 10,310 reporting no previous miscarriages, 2,823 reported having at least one previous miscarriage, 108 having given birth to one stillborn child, and only three study participants having experienced two prior stillbirths.

“Our study clearly shows that the birth of a healthy baby does not resolve the mental health problems that many women experience after a miscarriage or stillbirth,” Dr. Blackmore said. “This finding is important because, when assessing if a women is at risk of antenatal or postnatal depression, previous pregnancy loss is usually not taken into account in the same way as other risk factors such as a family history of depression, stressful life events or a lack of social support.”

“We know that maternal depression can have adverse impacts on children and families,” she added. “If we offer targeted support during pregnancy to women who have previously lost a baby, we may be able to improve health outcomes for both the women and their children.”

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