Can Epidurals Lower the Risk of Postpartum Depression, or Is it Just Another Solution to a Complicated Illness?

Whenever I see a headline suggesting a link to a drug, procedure, or therapy that is reported to lower the risk of Postpartum Depression (PPD), I naturally get excited. For as a healer specializing in the illness, that is my ultimate goal. What remedy — or combination of treatments — will alleviate the suffering of those with the condition?

But typically, soon after I read the latest study, other emotions enter my brain; usually a mix of disappointment and skepticism. As I often find myself wondering is this just one more attempt at trying to find one solution for a complicated illness. The latest example of my roller coaster ride, is a study conducted in China by researchers at the Peking University First Hospital.

The work, positing a theory that women who have an epidural during the birth of their child may have a lower risk of becoming depressed, involved 214 mothers-to-be. Some 107 of that group chose to have an epidural to help with the pain of childbirth.

The results are indeed encouraging: the women who did not have an epidural had a 35% post-partum depression rate, compared with just 14% for those who took the pain relief.

Professor Katherine Wisner, a perinatal psychiatrist from Chicago, who is quoted in the article reporting the research, said, ‘There is a well-known relationship between acute and chronic pain and depression. These findings are quite exciting and further research should be done to confirm them, especially in women at increased risk of postpartum depression and in women from other cultures. Pain control gets the mother off to a good beginning rather than starting off defeated and exhausted.”

As an added bonus, the study found that women who had had the epidural during the study were more likely to breastfeed their children than those women who went without the pain relief.

While all of the above is certainly positive, my question is: have the researchers sufficiently controlled other variables? After all, the first rule in psychology training is that correlation does not mean causation. If the findings hold up with further research, then why not offer every woman who’s at risk — and this is key, “at risk for PPD” with an epidural?

So meanwhile, I’ll sit on the sidelines until I see further investigation to confirm this next tempting theory.

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~ by ppdsus on August 17, 2014.

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