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Disparities/Minority Health

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Black and Hispanic mothers are much more likely than white mothers to suffer from early postpartum depression

Black and Hispanic mothers are substantially more likely to suffer from early postpartum depression than white mothers. However, similar factors play a role in depression for all of them, according to a study supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS09698). Screening for postpartum depressive symptoms is important, particularly in women of color, conclude the researchers who conducted the study. Two weeks after delivery, nearly one half (47 percent) of Hispanic mothers and 45 percent of black mothers reported depressive symptoms compared to about 31 percent of white mothers. These differences persisted, even after controlling for demographic, personal, and situational factors, such as a colicky infant.

Despite these racial differences in depression prevalence, the burden of physical symptoms, lack of social support, and lack of self-confidence in infant care were factors independently associated with postpartum depression among all the women. Worse physical symptoms (for example, severe fatigue) were associated with 17 percent greater likelihood of postpartum depression and infant colic with nearly twice the likelihood. In contrast, social support and confidence in managing the infant and household were both associated with 10 percent less likelihood of postpartum depression.

Unlike previous reports, the study found no link between past depression history and early postpartum depression. The study findings were based on responses to a telephone survey by 655 white, black, and Hispanic mothers between 2 and 6 weeks postpartum. They were asked about demographic characteristics, physical symptoms, social support, confidence in infant care, provider access, and other issues.

More details are in "Racial and ethnic differences in factors associated with early postpartum depressive symptoms," by Elizabeth A. Howell, M.D., M.P.P., Pablo A. Mora, Ph.D., Carol R. Horowitz, M.D., M.P.H., and Howard Leventhal, Ph.D., in the June 2005 Obstetrics & Gynecology 105(6), pp. 1442-1450.

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