Women Who Give Birth In the Winter Are Less Likely to Suffer Postnatal Depression, Study Shows

Longer pregnancies were also found to reduce risk.

Pregnant woman holding lantern
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Winter may be gloomy for many, but new research suggests it could be the best time of year for new mothers.

A study has shown that women who give birth in the winter and early spring – when the days are dark and the nights long – are less likely to suffer from postnatal depression than mothers who have babies at other times of the year. It is thought that this is due to the fact that family and friends are more likely to 'rally round and help' each other once the weather turns glum.

The research

The team reviewed the medical records of 20,169 women who delivered babies between June 2015 and August 2017, and found that around 4.1% of them suffered with . Researcher Dr Jie Zhou, from Brighan and Women's Hospital in Boston, said:

"We wanted to find out whether there are certain factors influencing the risk of developing postpartum depression that may be avoided to improve women's health, both physically and mentally."

He added that, while it remains unclear why giving birth in winter or spring should have a positive effect, it could be linked to the "seasonal enjoyment of indoor activities mothers experience with newborns."

According to the Office of Women’s Health, mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disease, affect more women than men. More than 1 in 5 women have reported suffering from some type of mental health issue. Mental health is also a little more unique in women due to the existence of postpartum depression — which new fathers can also develop — and depression tied to a woman’s period. Although unexpected, giving birth can trigger feelings of depression and detachment, preventing the mother from bonding with her child. Some women can also develop premenstrual dysphoric syndrome (PPD), which is a depression that’s tied to a woman’s cycle. The mood swings are much more severe than the typical ones that come before a woman’s period and can disrupt her everyday routine, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
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"We have a few theories. Delivery will typically confine mothers to indoor activities with newborn babies, [and this] occurs more naturally for women in winter. The [winter] holiday season is also very enjoyable… Literature has also linked postnatal depression to vitamin D. Its storage may deplete in the few months without proper supplement or sun exposure, which could be related."

It was also concluded that women who gave birth early were more likely to suffer from the so-called 'baby blues', with other factors like length of pregnancy, whether or not an epidural was received and body mass index (BMI) also having an effect.

Postnatal depression: What you need to know

Postnatal depression (PND) can range from a mild period of mood disturbance following the birth of a child to severe and ongoing depression. It is described by the researchers as typically arising from a combination of hormonal changes, psychological adjustments and fatigue. Symptoms are very similar to those seen in 'ordinary' depression, including:

  • Feeling low, miserable or tearful for no apparent reason.
  • Being unable to enjoy yourself, or enjoy having a new baby.
  • Irritability with family, friends or the new baby.
  • Additional sleep disturbances (apart from those caused by the baby).
  • Increased levels of anxiety.
  • Feelings of worthlessness of helplessness.
  • In the most severe cases, suicidal thoughts can occur.

    A separate study has also shown that , with one in 25 new fathers suffering depression in the first few months following birth.

    The findings were presented at the Anesthesiology 2017 annual meeting in Boston.

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