First-time mothers who deliver through an unplanned caesarean section are 15 percent more likely to experience postnatal depression, according to a new study by researchers at the University of York in England.

The findings suggest that more mental health support may be needed for women whose babies are delivered via emergency caesarean section (C-section), a surgical procedure usually carried out because of complications during labor.

“The findings of this study are striking because they provide evidence of a causal relationship between emergency C-sections and postnatal depression,” said study author Dr. Valentina Tonei from the department of economics at the University of York.

“This has important implications for public health policy, with new mothers who give birth this way in need of increased support.

“The effects of postnatal depression can be far-reaching, with previous studies suggesting that it can have a negative effect, not just on the health of the mother and her relationships with her partner and family members, but also on the baby’s development. Mothers who experience postnatal depression are also less likely to go on to have more children.”

While other studies are typically based on small sample sizes from single hospitals, the new study evaluated data from 5,000 first-time mothers from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, a representative study of the UK population.

The researchers isolated the effects of an emergency C-section on a woman’s psychological well-being in the first nine months after delivery while also taking into account other factors, such as differences in the resource and staffing levels in hospitals and the mental health history of the mothers. By focusing on first-time mothers, the effects of previous birthing experiences were also eliminated.

“Unplanned caesareans may have a particularly negative psychological impact on mothers because they are unexpected, usually mentally and physically stressful and associated with a loss of control and unmatched expectations,” said Tonei.

“While the financial costs associated with this surgical procedure are well recognized, there has been less focus on the hidden health costs borne by mothers and their families. We hope this new evidence brings the impact on mothers’ mental health into the spotlight.”

The numbers of C-sections performed worldwide have increased dramatically in many developed countries over the past few decades. C-sections account for 32 percent of all births in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Source: University of York