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Release Date: 01/02/2014

A team of researchers - including two affiliated with Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island - has concluded that increased parental stress faced by adolescent mothers increases their chance of suffering from postpartum depression (PPD).

Maureen G. Phipps, MD, MPH, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Women & Infants and professor of obstetrics and gynecology and professor of epidemiology at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and Caron Zlotnick, PhD, of the hospital’s Division of Behavioral Health and a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at The Alpert School, were part of the research team that recently published “The Relationship between Parental Stress and Postpartum Depression Among Adolescent Mothers Enrolled in a Randomized Controlled Prevention Trial” in the professional journal Maternal and Child Health Journal.

“Parental stress tends to be higher among teenage mothers, with everything from the affordability of childcare, to daily caretaking concerns, to balancing school or work and their baby causing them stress,” Dr. Phipps says. “We believe this is the first study to assess whether parental stress predicted depression among adolescent mothers.”

The researchers enrolled 106 participants through Women & Infants’ Center for Primary Care between 2007 and 2008 and followed them for 289 visits postpartum. The average age was 16 years. More than half of the teens self-identified as Hispanic, and 16% reported a past history of depression. Through the study, 19 girls were diagnosed with PPD and 25% of them experienced high levels of parental stress as long as six months postpartum.

“Adolescent mothers who reported higher levels of parental stress were at significantly increased risk for postpartum depression,” Dr. Phipps explains. “We think that interventions targeting a reduction in parental stress may help adolescent mothers.”

Parenting stress is defined as an imbalance between the perceived demands of parenting and the perceived available resources. Many new mothers experience stress over finances, any family dysfunction and inexperience. Dr. Phipps says those stressors can impact adolescent mothers, who must deal with them without the benefit of maturity. If untreated, PPD has been shown to cause mothers to be less attached to their infants.

“We also know that mothers with PPD find their babies more demanding, which causes more parental stress than that experienced by mothers who are not depressed. This can also last longer than the baby’s first birthday, too,” she says.

The researchers suggest more work be done to bolster the services currently available to adolescent mothers. Data, Dr. Phipps says, suggests that mothers are interested in receiving support from their babies’ pediatricians but may be reluctant to raise the matter during a visit.

Further research into specific mechanisms for improving parental coping skills in adolescents, as well as research into the vulnerability of teens to PPD, was also urged.

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About Women & Infants Hospital

Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, a Care New England hospital, is one of the nation’s leading specialty hospitals for women and newborns. A major teaching affiliate of The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University for obstetrics, gynecology and newborn pediatrics, as well as a number of specialized programs in women’s medicine, Women & Infants is the 9th largest stand-alone obstetrical service in the country and the largest in New England with approximately 8,500 deliveries per year. A Designated Baby-Friendly® USA hospital, U.S.News & World Report 2014-15 Best Children’s Hospital in Neonatology and a 2014 Leapfrog Top Hospital, in 2009 Women & Infants opened what was at the time the country’s largest, single-family room neonatal intensive care unit.

Women & Infants and Brown offer fellowship programs in gynecologic oncology, maternal-fetal medicine, urogynecology and reconstructive pelvic surgery, neonatal-perinatal medicine, pediatric and perinatal pathology, gynecologic pathology and cytopathology, and reproductive endocrinology and infertility. It is home to the nation’s first mother-baby perinatal psychiatric partial hospital, as well as the nation’s only fellowship program in obstetric medicine.

Women & Infants has been designated as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence by the American College of Radiography; a Center of Excellence in Minimally Invasive Gynecology; a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence by the National Institutes of Health (NIH); and a Neonatal Resource Services Center of Excellence. It is one of the largest and most prestigious research facilities in high risk and normal obstetrics, gynecology and newborn pediatrics in the nation, and is a member of the National Cancer Institute’s Gynecologic Oncology Group and the Pelvic Floor Disorders Network.
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