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Controlling Childbirth Pain Prevents Depression, Study

Update Date: Jul 23, 2014 05:46 PM EDT

Controlling childbirth pain could prevent the baby blues, according to a new study.

Researchers at Northwestern University found that women who had pain control with epidural anesthesia during a vaginal were significantly less likely to develop postpartum depression than those who didn't have the epidural.

"Maximizing pain control in labor and delivery with your obstetrician and anesthesia team might help reduce the risk of postpartum depression," researcher Katherine Wisner, M.D., a Northwestern Medicine® perinatal psychiatrist, said in a news release.

"It's a huge omission that there has been almost nothing in postpartum depression research about pain during labor and delivery and postpartum depression," Wisner said. "There is a well-known relationship between acute and chronic pain and depression."

The study, on Chinese mothers, found that mothers who received epidurals for pain relief during labor for vaginal delivery were 14 percent less likely to experience depression six weeks after delivery. Researchers noted that 35 percent of mothers who didn't receive epidurals experienced depression.

The latest findings also found that non-depressed mothers were more likely to breastfeed than their depressed counterparts. Researchers said the findings suggest that pain control helps mom and child by strengthening the maternal bonding process.

"Pain control gets the mother off to a good beginning rather than starting off defeated and exhausted," Wisner said. "Whether it's vaginal or cesarean section delivery, pain control postpartum is an issue for all new mothers. 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."

"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," she concluded.

The findings are published in the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia.

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