A new study suggests getting an epidural during labor could lower your likelihood of postpartum depression
Turns out getting an epidural might be good for more than just making the pain of your contractions less intense. A recent study presented at the 2016 Anesthesiology annual meeting in Chicago suggests that beyond pain management, having an epidural during labor may actually decrease a woman’s likelihood of developing postpartum depression after giving birth.
“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,” said Grace Lim, M.D., director of obstetric anesthesiology at Magee Women’s Hospital of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and lead investigator on the study. “We found that certain women who experience good pain relief from epidural analgesia are less likely to exhibit depressive symptoms in the postpartum period.”
To get to this conclusion the researchers controlled for factors that are already known to increase a woman’s risk for postpartum depression, including pre-existing depression and anxiety and post-delivery pain caused by vagina tearing and trauma during childbirth (since that pain would be separate and distinct from the pain of contractions). Even after accounting for these factors, the study found that in some women, labor pain was still a significant risk factor for postpartum depression symptoms. Therefore, having an epidural during labor and less pain during childbirth may help reduce the risk for postpartum depression.
In the study, researchers reviewed the medical records of 201 women who had epidurals and assessed their pain using a 0-10 scale during labor. They calculated the improvement in pain before and after the women had an epidural. Then, six weeks after childbirth the women’s depression risk was assessed using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. Researchers found the more relief a woman got from her epidural, the lower her score was on the postnatal depression scale. The less painful her labor was, the less likely she was to score high for postpartum depression.
Obviously, having an epidural isn’t a guaranteed way to ward off postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is complicated and can be caused by a variety of factors. “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,” said Dr. Lim. “Postpartum depression can develop from a number of things including hormonal changes, psychological adjustment to motherhood, social support, and a history of psychiatric disorders.” And there are also other ways to manage labor pains besides having an epidural, like massage, meditation or laboring in a tub.
Whether or not to get an epidural is a decision that every woman must make for herself. Vaginal or c-section, unmedicated and at home or in a hospital bed with an epidural, however you give birth you’re accomplishing something incredible with your body. But postpartum depression is a serious condition. It’s also the most common condition associated with childbirth, with as many as one in seven moms affected. So if you’re on the fence about getting an epidural, this is definitely something to add to the “pro” column.