Obstetric risk factors for postnatal depression in urban and rural community samples


  • Stuart J. Johnstone,

  • Philip M. Boyce,

  • Anthea R. Hickey,

  • Allen D. Morris-Yates,

  • Meredith G. Harris

Philip M.Boyce Professor of Psychiatry (Correspondence); Stuart J. Johnstone, Research Officer; Anthea R. Hickey, Research Psychologist; Allen D. Morris-Yates, Senior Research Officer; Meredith G. Harris Research Officer Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Sydney, Clinical Sciences Building, Nepean Hospital, PO Box 63, Penrith, New South Wales 2751, Australia. Email: pboyce@mail.usyd.edu.au


Objective: The objective of this study was to examine obstetric risk factors for postnatal depression in an urban and rural community sample, with concurrent consideration of personality, psychiatric history and recent life events.

Methods: This was a prospective study with women planning to give birth in one of the four participating hospitals recruited antenatally. Obstetric information was obtained from the New South Wales Midwives Data Collection, completed shortly after delivery. Personality, psychiatric history and life-events information were obtained from a questionnaire, administered within 1 week postpartum. Depression status was assessed at 8 weeks postpartum using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale.

Results: Complete data were obtained from 490 women. Several non-obstetric risk factors for the development of postnatal depression at 8 weeks postpartum were reported including: sociodemographic (up to technical college level education, rented housing, receiving a pension/benefit), personality (those who described themselves as either nervy, shy/self-conscious, obsessional, angry or a worrier), psychiatric history (familial history of mental illness, personal history of depression or anxiety or a history of depression in the participant’s mother) and recent life-events (major health problem, arguments with partner and friends/relatives). None of the obstetric variables were significantly associated with increased risk for postnatal depression, but several showed marginally significant increases (multiparous women, antepartum haemorrhage, forceps and caesarean section deliveries).

Conclusions: The results emphasize the importance of psychosocial risk factors for postnatal depression and suggest that most obstetric factors during pregnancy and birth do not significantly increase risk for this depression. Early identification of potential risk for postnatal depression should include assessment of sociodemography, personality, psychiatric history and recent life events, as well as past and present obstetric factors.