The Surprising Way Epidural Anesthesia Could Slash Your Postpartum Depression Risk

According to new research, controlling your labor pain with an epidural may provide benefits that last well after you've given birth.

Epidurals reduce risk of postpartum depression
If you're putting together your birth plan at the moment, this piece of news may help sway you in favor of taking an epidural when it's time for you to deliver. Recent findings suggest that epidural use can go a long way beyond labor pain relief: According to scientists from Magee Women's Hospital in Pittsburgh, epidural anesthesia may also reduce your long-term risk of developing postpartum depression.

As surprising as this finding may be, it's right in line with previous research. As we've previously reported, researchers in Hong Kong identified a link between childbirth pain and postpartum depression. The more recent research not only bolsters this idea, it also provides a reason as to why this link might exist.

“Labor pain matters more than just for the birth experience. It may be psychologically harmful for some women and play a significant role in the development of postpartum depression. We found that certain women who experience good pain relief from epidural analgesia are less likely to exhibit depressive symptoms in the postpartum period," lead researcher Grace Lim, M.D., said in a release for the findings, which were presented at the American Society of Anesthesiologists 2016 meeting.

Researchers looked at records of 201 women who reported pain scores during labor, and researchers calculated the improvement in pain during labor vs. after epidural administration. Researchers took risk factors for postpartum depression into account when assessing depression risk six weeks after childbirth—and they found that patients with higher rates of improvement in pain coincided with lower depression risk scores.

Does that mean you should definitely use an epidural for pain relief? Not necessarily—but if you have a preexisting risk factor for postpartum depression (like preexisting anxiety/depression or lingering pain from tissue trauma during a previous childbirth), you may want to discuss this news with your doctor. 

“Although we found an association between women who experience less pain during labor and lower risk for postpartum depression, we do not know if effective pain control with epidural analgesia will assure avoidance of the condition,” Dr. Lim said in the research's release. “Postpartum depression can develop from a number of things including hormonal changes, psychological adjustment to motherhood, social support, and a history of psychiatric disorders.”