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Epidural 'may cut depression risk' after birth, say researchers

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Mothers-to-be who use pain relief during childbirth may have a lower risk of depression after their babies are born, a leading psychiatrist has said.

The NHS says that around one in 10 women suffer from post-natal depression.

New research from China has found that those who have an epidural for pain relief during labour during a normal birth have a lower rate of depression than those who go without.

“These findings are quite exciting and further research should be done to confirm them”

Katherine Wisner

Researchers from Peking University First Hospital looked at 214 patients, of whom 107 received an epidural on request.

Those who had the pain relief had a 14% rate of depression at six weeks postpartum, compared to nearly 35% for those who did not have an epidural.

The study also found that breastfeeding was more common in the group who had an epidural for pain compared to those who did not.

Commenting on the research, Professor Katherine Wisner, a perinatal psychiatrist at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, said that controlling pain during childbirth and post delivery may reduce the risk of developing the condition.

In an editorial, published in the journal Anesthesia and Analgesia, she said: “Maximising pain control in labour and delivery with your obstetrician and anaesthesia team might help reduce the risk of postpartum depression.

Northwestern University

Katherine Wisner

“It’s a huge omission that there has been almost nothing in postpartum depression research about pain during labour and delivery and postpartum depression,” she said. “There is a well-known relationship between acute and chronic pain and depression.

“These findings are quite exciting and further research should be done to confirm them, especially in women at increased risk of postpartum depression and in women from other cultures,” he said. “Pain control gets the mother off to a good beginning rather than starting off defeated and exhausted.

“There is no way to have a delivery without pain. The objective here is to avoid severe pain. Controlling that delivery pain so a woman can comfortably develop as a mother is something that makes a lot of sense,” Professor Wisner added.

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