Stillbirth Boosts Long-term Depression Risk in Previously Healthy Women

Delivering a stillborn baby is a devastating experience for any woman, and a new study shows that it might boost their risk of developing long-term depression. This is true even of women who never previously suffered from depression before the stillbirth.

The study, conducted by researchers partially funded by the National Institute of Health, was focused on finding stillbirth causes and prevention methods. It defined a stillbirth as the death of a baby at or after the 20th week week of pregnancy, which happens in about one in every 160 pregnancies. That translates to about 26,000 stillbirths each year. Things like birth defects, placenta problems, infections, and chromosomal abnormalities are already known to play a role in still births.However, up to 35 percent of stillbirths are currently unexplained.

An Unexpected Finding

According to Carol Hogue, Ph.D., director of the Women's and Children's Center at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta and one of the study's authors, women with a history of depression are especially vulnerable to persistent depression, as shown by earlier research. However, the finding that previously emotionally healthy women are also vulnerable was a new one.

"This study is the first to show definitively that women who have no history of depression may face a risk for depression many months after a stillbirth," explained Marian Willinger, Ph.D., of the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and another of the study's authors. "The findings suggest that women who have had a stillbirth may require longer term monitoring for depressive illness and referral for treatment when they need it."

Hogue said, "Symptoms of depression are a normal part of grieving after a stillbirth, but depressive symptoms that don’t gradually resolve within six months of the loss can persist and become debilitating."

This article contains more information on stillbirth and dealing with the grief and depression that often follows. If you suspect that you might be depressed, this screening test will help you determine whether it's time to talk to a professional.