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Postpartum Depression in Developing Countries

Postpartum depression in developing countries occurs at a higher rate than in developed countries and has negative impacts on the health of both the mother and the infant. About 13 percent of women worldwide experience depression after childbirth; in developing countries, 19.8 percent of women have postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression is a form of clinical depression. Symptoms vary but may include fatigue, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, anxiety, social withdrawal and sadness. Mothers may also experience guilt regarding their childcare abilities. New mothers face a greater risk for depression because of hormonal changes resulting from pregnancy, childbirth and the added stress of caring for a child.

Poor maternal health can negatively impact the mother and child in several ways. First, severe postpartum depression can lead to suicide, which is a significant cause of death in mothers in developing countries. Postpartum depression can also affect the mother-infant relationship and decrease attachment. Finally, maternal depression is positively correlated with stunted child growth.

In developing countries, stunted growth can lead to lower-than-average adult height, low educational performance, reduced economic productivity, impaired work capacity and susceptibility to diseases. Infants are directly dependent upon their mothers to meet their nutritional needs and are highly sensitive to their environment. Therefore, they are perceptive of changes in their mothers’ mental health.

A variety of stressors act as risk factors for postpartum depression in developing countries. There is not a direct association between the state of poverty and postpartum depression in low and middle-income countries, but financial stress and difficulties are positively correlated with maternal depression. Unsurprisingly, hunger is also related to postpartum depression. A lack of food security places a lot of stress on the provider(s) of a household. Mothers exposed to violence or conflict situations have an increased risk for postpartum depression.While global health

While global health organizations have programs to combat postpartum depression in developing countries, more help is needed since most cases are undetected and untreated. Currently, some programs are evolving with non-specialized workers. These community-based helpers work with mothers to care for their children and increase their education and confidence.

Programs of this nature are already successful in Pakistan. The World Health Organization is trying to integrate maternal mental healthcare into routine pregnancy and infant care. This will help detect cases early and treat them without stigma. Development is an important factor in stress reduction for new mothers in developing countries.

Sarah Denning

Photo: Flickr