Women with a history of substance abuse, even long before pregnancy, are more likely to experience stress and anxiety in the three months following childbirth, according to a study published in the journal Archives of Women’s Mental Health. However, the study did not find a significant association between lifetime drug use and postpartum depression.
Substance Abuse and Postpartum Mental Health Issues
The months following childbirth are notoriously difficult. In the postpartum period, women must recover from birth and pregnancy, cope with hormonal shifts, and provide care to a newborn. Sleep deprivation can exacerbate these challenges. Women who breastfeed usually have to wake to feed their babies every few hours, and most newborns keep irregular schedules and wake frequently during the night.
To explore whether drug and alcohol use played a role in postpartum stress, researchers interviewed 100 women in British Columbia who had recently given birth. Participants were mostly from high socioeconomic backgrounds and were not at higher than usual risk for postpartum mental health issues.
In structured interviews, the women provided information about their history of substance abuse and mental health issues, as well as their postpartum symptoms of posttraumatic stress (PTSD), general stress, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive issues (OCD), and depression.
Even after controlling for sociodemographic factors, women with any history of substance abuse were at a heightened risk of postpartum PTSD. Substance abuse history also increased the risk of anxiety, though not as much. The study also found a marginal link between substance abuse history and stress. There was no correlation between alcohol use and postpartum mental health issues.
Postpartum Anxiety More Common Than Postpartum Depression?
Although postpartum depression receives significant media and medical attention, research suggests postpartum anxiety is more common. A 2013 study found 17% of women have postpartum anxiety, and 6% of women experience postpartum depression. As many as 11% of new moms may experience postpartum OCD.
Postpartum OCD is characterized by obsessive thoughts that women attempt to alleviate with compulsive behaviors, such as hand washing. Women with postpartum anxiety may be plagued with anxious thoughts, often involving the baby’s safety. Intrusive thoughts of bad things happening to the baby are especially common among women who experience postpartum anxiety.
- Drug use strong predictor for postpartum mental health problems. (2016, December 8). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161208125900.htm
- Paul, I., Downs, D., Schaefer, E., Beiler, J., & Weisman, C. (2013). Postpartum anxiety and maternal-infant health outcomes. Pediatrics, 131(4). doi:10.1542/peds.2012-2147d
- Two studies find postpartum anxiety & OCD much more common. (2013, March 05). Retrieved from http://www.postpartumprogress.com/two-studies-find-postpartum-anxiety-more-common-than-expected
- Prevatt, B., Desmarais, S. L., & Janssen, P. A. (2016). Lifetime substance use as a predictor of postpartum mental health. Archives of Women’s Mental Health. doi:10.1007/s00737-016-0694-5
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