New research reveals link between gestational diabetes and postnatal depression

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Postnatal depression (PND) affects as many as one in seven Australian mums. While many of us are aware of issues that can increase your chances of developing PND, new factors are still being discovered.

And a recent study published in the journal Depression and Anxiety has reported on a somewhat surprising link, finding that gestational diabetes increases the risk of PND in first time mothers.

During the study, researches from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the Karolinska Institute examined data from 700,000 women from the Swedish Medical Birth Register, which includes information on all births in Sweden.

Dr Michael Silverman, lead author of the study, said that while gestational diabetes and PND are totally different conditions, the findings suggest that they should be considered together.

The researchers found that women with a history of depression are more than 20 times more likely to experience PND than mothers without a previous clinical diagnosis of depression.

And while gestational diabetes alone increases the risk of PND, women with a history of maternal depression as well as gestational diabetes are at an even greater risk of developing PND.

"While having diabetes increases PND risk for all women, for those women who have had a past depressive episode, having diabetes during pregnancy makes it 70 per cent more likely that they will develop PND," explained Dr Silverman, who is an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine.

Terri Smith, the CEO of PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia), welcomed the new research. "While we have known for a long time that a previous experience of mental illness is a key risk factor for PND, this new link to gestational diabetes is really interesting," she told Essential Baby.

Smith said that it is important to understand the different risk factors so new mums and their families can keep an eye out for changes to their mental health.

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"Understanding risk factors means a new mum is more likely to recognise what is happening and get help sooner. It's important to remember that this is a serious illness that can impact on both the mother and baby," she explains.

To make matters more complicated, the signs and symptoms of PND can be difficult to recognise. So what should we be looking out for?

"Many new mums speak of lack of energy and motivation, crying for no apparent reason and wanting to sleep more than usual. Others speak of inability to sleep (unrelated to baby) or eat, anger and irritability, feeling nervous or on edge and difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly," Smith says.

"Postnatal anxiety and depression presents as differently as each person who experiences it."

Of course, bringing a baby into the world is a life-changing event, so it's natural to experience some ups and downs while making the transition to parenthood. However, if you experience the symptoms for more than two weeks, or if they are impacting your ability to function, it is important to reach out for support.

"It is important to know that it is okay to ask for help," Smith says. "You are not alone."

Need support with PND? Here's what to do: