Getting an Epidural Might Reduce Your Risk of Postpartum Depression

mom and newborn baby

Moms have been known to do practically anything to relieve labor pains in the delivery room, but one form of pain management just might help after childbirth. A new research study points to the idea that epidurals may decrease the likelihood of postpartum depression (PPD) for some women. These findings have left us with a ton of questions -- including what this info means for expectant mothers who want to have a natural childbirth.


Accounting for factors like preexisting anxiety and depression, vaginal tearing, and other delivery-related traumas -- all of which have been shown to increase the likelihood of postpartum depression -- researchers from the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) discovered that some women who were able to reduce labor pains with an epidural subsequently had a lower probability of experiencing PPD.

So, how did they come to this conclusion, you ask?

Experts involved in the study reviewed the medical records of 201 new moms who received an epidural during labor. Analyzing their self-assessed pain levels (a common 0-10 verbal rating scale used in routine clinical care) during childbirth, experts were able to determine Mom's risk of postpartum depression six weeks after delivery by using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS).

More from CafeMom: Beautiful Images of Mothers Surviving Postpartum Depression Are Everything

They found that mothers whose labor pains were eased by epidurals throughout their labor typically had lower EPDS scores after baby's birth -- i.e., they had less of a chance to have postpartum depression.

However, while the ASA notes that labor pain can be a factor for PPD symptoms in new moms, more research is still necessary to pinpoint which moms are more likely to experience PPD that's related to intense labor discomfort.

Dr. Grace Lim, lead investigator on the study and a director of obstetric anesthesiology, mentions in the study:

Although we found an association between women who experience less pain during labor and lower risk for postpartum depression, we do not know if effective pain control with epidural analgesia will assure avoidance of the condition. Postpartum depression can develop from a number of things including hormonal changes, psychological adjustment to motherhood, social support, and a history of psychiatric disorders

CafeMom confirmed with Dr. Lim after the study's release that this retrospective medical record review only focused on expectant moms who requested epidural analgesia and did not include moms-to-be who opted for a medication-free childbirth.

More from CafeMom: Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Epidurals But Were Afraid to Ask

Reports of epidural anesthesia during labor decreasing chances of PPD is nothing new. In fact, a study published in the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia in 2014 revealed out of 214 laboring women, only 14 percent who had an epidural battled postpartum depression -- whereas 35 percent of expectant moms who opted for natural childbirth experienced PPD.

So, there definitely appear to be benefits.

Dr. Kameelah Phillips is a New York City–based ob-gyn who believes epidurals can be a welcomed saving grace for moms -- especially women who have a history of anxiety and depression -- both in and out of the delivery room.

Speaking with CafeMom, Dr. Phillips says epidurals aren't the only form of pain management during labor, but can help moms endure the physical suffering of childbirth as well as reduce postpartum pain so she can care for baby.

"Reduced postpartum pain is also a big bonus for women with vaginal tears or women who have limited social support," she explains. "New mothers, especially first-time mothers, often do not anticipate the level of pain that they may experience postpartum. Postpartum pain, anxiety, and depression are often topics women don't talk about and so they are unprepared for this stage of recovery."

As great as it is to hear that laboring mothers who opt for an epidural have a better chance of dodging postpartum depression, what does this study mean for moms who desire to have a natural childbirth?

More from CafeMom: 11 Ways to Naturally Heal After Childbirth (Your Tore Up Body Will Thank You)

Megan Davidson is a certified labor and delivery doula and childbirth educator based in Brooklyn, New York, who feels there's more to pain management and postpartum depression than an epidural.

"While the relief offered by epidurals during childbirth is desired and appreciated by many, the [ASA] study should not be read to suggest that women who opt not to have pain medication during labor are more likely to have postpartum depression," Davidson told CafeMom. She points out that the study only speaks to the mental health outcomes of women who choose to have pain medication during labor and then did -- or did not -- have adequate pain relief from those epidurals.

In addition to treating postpartum depression naturally, there are many ways for expectant moms to prepare for childbirth that can help reduce pain without the need for an epidural. notes Lamaze, meditation, and yoga are common ways to alleviate discomfort during labor. The American Pregnancy Association also reveals that patterned breathing enables laboring women to feel more relaxed and handle pain better.

More from CafeMom: 12 Moms Talk Childbirth & What Actually Helped With Labor Pain

Postpartum depression affects 1 in 8 new mothers and comes with a variety of risk factors. Whether you choose to have an epidural during childbirth or not, do make sure you speak with your care provider to find ways to help reduce labor pains that will make postpartum recovery a little easier to bear.


Image via Golden Pixels LLC/Shutterstock

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