Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

Interpersonal Aspects of Postpartum Depression

Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

Interpersonal Aspects of Postpartum Depression

Article excerpt

Abstract: The primary goal of this paper is to provide a theoretical understanding of postpartum depression that captures multiple aspects of a woman's life during pregnancy and postpartum. Recent literature cites the couple's relationship as playing an important role in the antenatal period. This paper offers a unique perspective. Family systems theory is employed to inform the conceptualization of postpartum depression and also to guide clinicians, women and family's understanding of this disorder from a relational perspective. Specifically, a family system perspective connects relational risk and protection to postpartum depression and offers practical implications for clinicians and families.

Keywords: postpartum depression, family systems theory, couples relationship, risk factors, protective factor

While having a baby is often referred to as the happiest time in a woman's life (Barnes, 2006), many women find pregnancy and the postpartum period to be a stage of major physical and emotional changes. Postpartum depression (PPD) is a mood disorder effecting women after childbirth and involves symptoms that range from mild to severe. It is the most frequent mental health complication following childbirth (Munk-Olsen, Laursen, Pedersen, Mors, & Mortensen, 2006). While our knowledge about postpartum depression has greatly advanced in recent years, a more comprehensive understanding of the pregnancy and postpartum depression process is vital to understanding the context in which postpartum depression exists, especially the relational aspects of a woman's antenatal period. A focus of recent literature has been on the couple's relationship being of paramount importance during the postpartum time yet we do not have specific information on how the quality and function of a couple's relationship affects the family postpartum (Banker & LaCoursier, 2014; Barnes, 2006; Blum, 2007; Chandra, Bhargavaraman, Raghunandan, & Shaligram, 2006; Haslam, Pakenham, & Smith, 2006; Paulson & Bazemore, 2010). In this paper, the family and couple unit will be referred to as a heterosexual relationship because literature related to postpartum depression has primarily looked at heterosexual relationships. Understanding how the relational aspects of the antenatal period interact with postpartum depression risk and protective factors is necessary to better understand postpartum depression.

Early research on postpartum depression focused only on etiology (Bloch, Daly, & Rubinow, 2003; Blum, 2007; Forty et ah, 2006; Hendrick, Altshuler, & Suri, 1998; Klier et al., 2007; Whiffen & Johnson, 1998; Zonana & Gorman, 2005). These studies looked at the biological aspects of the women affected, such as the role of female hormones and various biological changes which occur during pregnancy and childbirth (Barnes, 2006). Establishing biomedical risk factors for postpartum depression (Kendall-Tackett & Kantor, 1993; Nierop, Bratsikas, Zimmermann, & Ehlert, 2006; Pedersen et ah, 2007) was pivotal for understanding physical and chemical changes that can affect a woman's mood (Barnes, 2006). While these studies were important, they were limited by failing to consider the emotional, social and economic contexts of a woman's life.

Then postpartum depression researchers' focus turned to psychosocial issues. It was not until this decade that researchers turned their attention toward the range of psychological and social aspects of postpartum depression (Barnes, 2006; Chandra et ah, 2006; Green, Broome, & Mirabella, 2006; Halligan, Murray, Martins, & Cooper, 2006; Haslam et ah, 2006; Roberts, Bushnell, Collings, & Purdie, 2006; Shaw, Levitt, Wong, & Kaczorowski, 2006). Researchers began acknowledging the important role life stressors could play in women's mental health (Blum, 2007; Cutrona & Troutman, 1986; Forty et ah, 2006; Haslam et ah, 2006; Klier, 2006; O'Hara, 1986; Whiffen & Johnson, 1998). …

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