Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Women who were overweight at the time of giving birth also tended to be at higher risk
Giving birth to a child significantly increases the risk of women developing depression.
But a new study has found that walking can help alleviating mild symptoms.
After an exercise program for 30 minutes on a Monday or Wednesday, women recovered much faster and were less anxious about giving birth.
The NHS has urged pregnant women to go to their GP if they notice themselves being bothered by feelings of depression or anxiety.
After analysing post-pregnancy data, the investigation, published in the BMJ, found that having a low or high body mass index (BMI) also raised the risk of severe symptoms.
It also revealed that the higher the level of perceived distress, the greater the proportion of women in the study classed as stable.
Postpartum depression is defined as:
depression that is recurrent
being not well or unable to cope with daily demands
worrying excessively about the baby
being unable to relax.
“In general, our study found that pregnancy increases the risk of postpartum depression by around 60% in both sexes, with female pregnancy-related severity of postpartum depression greatest,” said psychologist Sophie Harman from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who led the research.
“More specifically, our findings suggest that exercise from mid-weeks of pregnancy up to the first few months after birth can significantly reduce the risk of severe postpartum depression, particularly in women who are more sensitive to fluctuations in their BMI.”
How the exercise made a difference
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The researchers did not try to assess the walking if it was done only twice a week,
The study involved 186 women, who were between 29 and 31 years old and either breastfeeding or not. They were asked to stick to their usual daily routine while researchers calculated their BMI.
Those whose BMI was above the threshold for an obese weight reduced their levels of acute stress and physical sadness by 65% on average and their symptoms of depression by 38%.
On the other hand, women whose BMI was at or below the threshold for the normal weight (pudgy) and overweight categories could benefit from regular walks.
By walking at least 30 minutes on a Monday or Wednesday, the researchers found the women could decrease the severity of their symptoms by 37% and by 63% respectively.
“We were surprised by the effect of walking. It was very hard to feel in control over the logistics, which made us wonder how it might make a difference,” said Dr Harman.
“Maintaining the same sort of aerobic activity levels was difficult. But when we put them in a diet fitter than that of a healthy person and compared it to current recommendations, we saw a difference in stress and symptoms of depression.
“It seems that the effect was best when women continued the exercise program up to seven weeks after the birth.”