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Severe postpartum distress in Icelandic mothers with difficult infants: a follow-up study on their health care


Marga Thome, PhD, Faculty of Nursing, University of Iceland, Eirberg, Eiríksgata 34, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland.


This article describes help seeking and health care of mothers with a difficult infant who suffered long-term depressive symptoms and a high degree of parenting stress. A subsample of severely distressed mothers (n = 37) was recruited from a cross-sectional national survey and followed up 2 months later by a semi-structured telephone interview. The survey included all Icelandic women who gave birth during a quarter of a year and had a live baby 2 months later (n = 1053). All distressed mothers with a difficult infant were selected from sample respondents on preset scores of two self-report distress measures. The study sample emerged during the selection process for an intervention study from which it was excluded on grounds of very high distress scores. Results showed that 5% of the surveyed population were postpartum severely distressed. Findings from this follow-up study revealed that only one woman of four received health care for severe distress by various professionals. One woman of six received help from others. Very few women utilized the services available at Health Care Centers. About half of the women held attitudes that hindered them in seeking help and health care. It is concluded that postpartum severely distressed women receive little primary health care for mental health problems and the majority of them show little initiative to seek out for help. More active outreach by health professionals is recommended.