The Surprising Link Between Childbirth Pain and Postpartum Depression

Ouch! Could the pain you experience during labor continue you to hurt you after delivery? How your physical health is tied up to your emotional wellbeing after having a baby.

Baby and Mom with postpartum depression OndroM/Shutterstock
According to an upcoming study, your odds of experiencing postpartum depression might have a lot to do with the physical pain you experience after giving birth. Findings indicate that women who feel the pain of childbirth more than four weeks after delivery test higher for postpartum depression risk factors. 

This research was presented at World Congress of Anesthesiologists in Hong Kong and was carried out by a team of Singaporean experts, who enlisted 200 healthy women who had used epidural pain relief during childbirth. Researchers measured the women's psychological vulnerability via the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) and the Pain Catastrophizing Scale (PCS), then interviewed the women by phone to assess their levels of persistent pain and anxiety six to eight weeks after delivery. The team used Spielberger State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) and Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) to assess anxiety and depression risk factors, then used modeling to analyze the association between pain and depression/anxiety factors.

Here's what the researchers found after analyzing 138 women: around six had EPDS scores indicating postpartum depression—and subjects who experienced persistent pain after delivery scored higher on the whole on the EPDS scale. Women who experienced relief from labor pain within four weeks scored a mean of 2.44 points lower on the EPDS scale, while women who didn't have postpartum pain scored a mean of 4.07 points lower. 

Study authors are following these findings up with additional research, but in the meantime we would urge you to speak with your doctor if you're experiencing persistent pain or symptoms of depression after giving birth. 

"The research findings support the need to address pain comprehensively to lessen the risk of developing PND [postnatal depression], and a larger study is being conducted to evaluate the impact of pain and PND in pregnant women," study author Ban Leong Sng, MBBS, said in a release for the study.

While we'll need more research to fully understand this association, we're pleased to see that researchers are trying to get a better handle on why postpartum depression affects certain women—this issue is a major one, with nearly 1 million women affected every year. Will research like this help us slash these odds? We certainly hope so.