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Poor Prenatal Mental Health in Women Linked to Past Domestic Violence

Update Date: May 28, 2013 06:01 PM EDT

Women who have previously experienced domestic abuse are more likely to develop depression and anxiety around the time of birth.

A new study linked high levels of symptoms of perinatal depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder to past domestic violence during pregnancy, the past year or over a woman's lifetime.

Researchers conducted a systematic review of 67 relevant studies and found that around 12 percent to 13 percent of postnatal depression is associated with experiences of domestic abuse during pregnancy.  The findings also revealed that women with antenatal and postnatal depression were three times more likely to have been physically abused by their partner in the past year and five times more likely to have been abused when pregnant.

Researchers found that women with prenatal depression were also three times more likely to have experienced domestic violence over her lifetime. Researchers noted that women with prenatal depression were significantly more likely than those with postnatal anxiety disorders to have experienced past domestic violence.

Researchers stressed that the latest findings do not prove causal link between domestic violence and prenatal mental health disorders.

"Our finding that women with high levels of symptoms of a range of perinatal mental disorders have a high prevalence and increased odds of having experienced domestic violence both over the lifetime and during pregnancy highlights the importance of health professionals identifying and responding to domestic violence among women attending antenatal and mental health services," researchers wrote in the study.

"Further data is... needed on how maternity and mental health services should best identify women with a history or current experience of domestic violence, respond appropriately and safely, and thus improve health outcomes for women and their infants in the perinatal period," they added.

The findings are published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

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