Researchers from the North Carolina State University and the University of British Columbia have found out that a woman's lifetime history of drug use can actually help predict whether she will suffer from stress and anxiety after childbirth. This finding could help health care professionals screen pregnant women who are at high risk for mental health problems later on so that they are treated earlier.
The researchers claimed that a lot of attention has been created recently regarding the need to include mental health screening in prenatal checkups. This has focused largely on identifying women who may be at risk for postpartum depression, commented Sarah Desmarais, an associate professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of a journal article on the work.
Mental problems and history of drug use
The researchers noted that their study has two important findings that are relevant to mental health screening among pregnant women. First they were able to find that women are at risk for significant mental health problems after pregnancy other than depression, such as anxiety and stress. Anxiety and stress are also serious issues that also warrant more attention from health care providers. Second, this study emphasizes the importance of acquiring data on a woman's history of drug use so that health care providers can better identify women who are at high risk for postpartum stress and anxiety, so that more steps can be done to provide the needed care.
The study did not specifically want to focus on drug use but it was aimed at answering whether drug and alcohol use of women can predict how she will have mental health issues after childbirth. A lot of studies have already focused on substance use of women during pregnancy, and the researchers did not think that this is not a reliable way of capturing substance use in women because women will not likely admit that they are using drugs during pregnancy. They don't admit because they are afraid of losing parental custody, of dealing with social stigma and of being biased in their care and treatment. Also, pregnancy is not the time when women begin to use drugs and alcohol; substance and alcohol use is carried over before pregnancy.
The researchers used data from 100 women in British Columbia who had given birth in the previous three months. These women were from higher socioeconomic backgrounds and were not at high risk for postpartum mental health problems. They were recruited through a large health and wellness study which was not focused on substance abuse. Women in this study were asked about their history of drug and alcohol abuse. The researchers noted that by asking about lifetime drug use, it helped predict whether a woman would experience mental health problems after pregnancy.
According to the researchers, the best predictor of postpartum mental health problems is still a woman's history of lifetime mental health problems. However drug and alcohol use history also increased the likelihood of having mental health problems. Prior drug use is also associated with increased symptoms of anxiety and stress after childbirth. The researchers also found out that drug use was not associated with postpartum depression and that prior alcohol use was not associated with mental health problems after birth.