Women who delay first baby until they've established career 'more vulnerable to postnatal depression'
Older mothers struggle as they 'are more used to being in control'
12:37 GMT, 20 March 2012
'Feeling like a failure': Ms Haga said older mothers may have higher expectations of themselves
Women who wait to have a baby until after they have established their career are more likely to suffer from post-natal depression, scientists say.
Older mothers are more likely to 'over-prepare' for their first-born and struggle when things don't go as planned, a study suggests.
The findings are of great significance
in the UK, where an increasing number of women are choosing to delay
motherhood until they are more financially secure.
Research leader Silje Marie Haga, from the University of Oslo, in Norway, said: 'There are some indications that older, first-time mothers are vulnerable to postpartum depression, perhaps because they are used to being in control of their own lives: they have completed a long education and established a career before they have children.
'But you can’t control a baby; on the contrary, you have to be extremely flexible.
'Several of the women I interviewed said themselves that this contributed to the huge feeling of letdown when things did not turn out as they had planned.'
In the UK, there were 26,976 babies born to mothers of 40 and over in 2009, compared with 9,336 in 1989, according to the Office for National Statistics figures.
The latest study analysed surveys from around 350 new mothers as well as
in-depth interviews with 12 first-time mothers. It found 16.5 per cent reported suffering from depression for up to six months after giving birth.
Ms Haga said the interviews highlighted a number of risk factors apart from biological ones.
'It’s not the need for control in itself, but rather the failure to achieve specific expectations that can trigger a depression,' she said.
'In contrast, women who take a more relaxed approach to motherhood with more undefined expectations cope better with unexpected challenges.'
Other women struggled after the delivery left them 'feeling like a failure'.
One new mother told Ms Haga she struggled after having an unplanned caesarean section: 'That wasn’t how I was supposed to have a baby. I was so tired and so disappointed, I was so sad,' she said.
'I hadn’t been able to give birth to my baby; someone had to do it for me.'
'In my study the women who had the greatest need for control often had the strongest wish to have a natural birth,' Ms Haga noted.
She added that difficulties with breast feeding could also trigger baby blues as there is a huge societal pressure to choose breast over bottle.
Ms Haga said new mothers needed both practical and emotional support – particularly from their partner – as well as an understanding that life can be exhausting for them.
It is common that three-four days after the birth women experience what can be referred to as postpartum blues, i.e. they cry very easily without quite knowing the reason. This can last up to a week, but in some cases it continues. If this is so, there may be talk of postpartum depression, which resembles other kinds of depression with feelings of hopelessness, sadness, exhaustion and sleep problems also when the child is asleep.
'These women are unable to enjoy having a baby. Being depressed at precisely this period is an extra emotional burden to bear because of expectations that you should be happy,' Ms Haga said.
She added that women are often reluctant to ask for health because they still think there is a stigma attached to depression.
Ms Haga is now developing a web-based program with a mental health centre in Norway that will monitor pregnant and new mothers from the 22nd week of pregnancy and up to six months after the birth.
They hope that the program will support women during this very sensitive phase and potentially prevent postpartum depression.