Becoming a mother, especially for the first time, has its challenges – and it starts with giving birth.
From woman to woman, the birth experience can vary tremendously – and one of the most important factors that determines the experiences new mothers have is the delivery method.
Research has shown the impact this procedure has on mothers’ bodies – including risk of infections, persistent wound and abdominal discomfort – but less is known about the possible consequences for their mental health.
My study analyses the effect of having an unplanned caesarean on new mothers’s psychological well-being.
Postnatal depression can have a profound and long-term impact on the lives of new mothers. It can lead to a deterioration of their relationship with their partner and limit their ability to work.
Postnatal depression can also become a chronic condition affecting the way mothers look after their children. Indeed, previous studies have found lower immunisation rates and higher hospital admissions among children of depressed mothers.
Mothers giving birth through an emergency caesarean are different from mothers who give birth naturally in many ways. For example, older or overweight women are more likely to have an emergency caesarean. Complications during labour due to the baby’s health may result in an emergency caesarean. And this can also have an effect on the mother’s psychological well-being, as she may worry for her baby’s health.
In the study, it was important to account for these differences, because what we were interested in was whether emergency caesareans increases the risk of postpartum depression – rather than the effect of these existing factors.
We considered all these factors and concluded that women giving birth through an emergency caesarean were 15% more likely to develop postnatal depression. This is a large percentage, when you consider that about one in every three mothers experience some form of postnatal depression after childbirth.
Exactly why this happens, is still unknown. But previous studies have argued that longer and more difficult postpartum recovery for mothers who had a caesarean delivery, as well as the separation of mothers from their babies directly after the delivery may cause this phenomenon. Another explanation is that because emergency caesareans are unexpected events, they may be associated with loss of control and with a birth experience that is very different from what was expected.
Of course, in many cases, emergency deliveries cannot be avoided. But the results of this research highlight the importance of providing additional psychological support to women who have an emergency caesarean. This is important, because supporting mothers who give birth through an emergency caesarean may not only help to reduce the risk of postnatal depression and improve their well-being, but it could also benefit their families, and in particular their children.