Approximately 9-16% of new mothers in the US experience postpartum depression. But according to a new study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, telephone-based support from mothers who have recovered from postpartum depression could be an effective way to help new mothers with the condition.

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Receiving telephone-based peer support was found to benefit mothers with postpartum depression, according to researchers.

Postpartum depression, also known as postnatal depression, is a period of distress that can occur in a woman after she has given birth. Onset is most common during the 4 weeks after delivery, but it can develop up to 2 years after delivery.

Symptoms of the condition vary in each woman, and can include irritability, anxiety, lack of concentration and energy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, feeling disconnected from others and even thoughts of death or suicide.

Mothers with postnatal depression may also feel they are unable to care for themselves or their baby, and may even have negative feelings toward the baby.

“Postpartum depression is a major health concern not only for the mother, but for the child as well,” says study author Nicole Letourneau, PhD, RN, a professor in the Faculty of Nursing and Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary in Canada.

“Treatments for postpartum depression are particularly important to prevent adverse effects on the mother-child relationship, and limit the potential impact on child development,” she adds.

For their study, Letourneau and colleagues set out to see whether telephone-based peer support would be effective for reducing postnatal depression in new mothers.

The researchers recruited 64 mothers with an average age of 26 from New Brunswick, Canada, who were experiencing postpartum depression up to 24 months after giving birth.

The researchers decided against using a control group in their study based on “strong evidence peer support is effective,” and “the ethical requirement to refer depressed mothers to professional care makes it difficult to assess whether treatment effect is due to the telephone-based peer support or the referred treatment.”

Volunteers who had recovered from postpartum depression were recruited and trained on how to offer telephone-based peer support to the participants. Over an average follow-up period of 14 weeks, the participants received approximately nine calls from the volunteers.

All mothers were moderately depressed at study baseline, but when 37 of the mothers were assessed after 7 weeks of telephone-based peer support, only 8.1% reported postpartum depression.

By 14 weeks, 4 out of 34 mothers assessed (11.8%) reported postpartum depression, which the researchers say indicates there was some relapse, though postpartum depression incidence was still significantly lower than study baseline.

Commenting on their findings, co-lead author Loretta Secco, PhD, RN, a professor in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of New Brunswick, says:

Our findings highlight the importance of nurses assessing depression in new mothers and demonstrate the potential of telephone-based peer support to reduce maternal depression. This non-judgmental support from peers seems to help overcome the stigma often associated with mental illness.”

The team stresses that not all mothers benefited from telephone-based peer support, which suggests some may still require medication or other forms of support for postpartum depression.

Still, the researchers say their findings emphasize the need for nurses to increase their understanding of the risk factors associated with postpartum depression and ensure mothers suffering from the condition are offered optimal social support.

“Depressed mothers need supportive care, guidance to overcome depression and often reassurance that they are capable mothers and recovery is possible,” they conclude.

In August 2013, Medical News Today reported on another Canadian-based study in which researchers claim new mothers who live in urban areas are at higher risk of postpartum depression.