The study, published in the Journal of Behavioural Medicine, found that over a third (35%) of mums-to-be who saw their final trimester fall between August and November suffered depression, compared to around a quarter (26%) of women who had summer babies.
Researchers analysed information from 293 first time mothers who had participated in two clinical trials about sleep before and after pregnancy.
Data collected included the amount of daylight women experienced during the final trimester of their pregnancy, along with information about known PND risk factors such as a history of depression, the woman’s age, her socioeconomic status and how much she slept.
Overall 30 per cent of the women suffered depression after birth, but that figure fell to 26% for those women whose final trimester coincided with longer daylight hours and rose to 35% for those who had winter births.
Sunlight is thought to trigger the production of the hormone serotonin, which boosts mood.
“Among first-time mothers, the length of day in the third trimester, specifically day lengths that are shortening compared to day lengths that are short, long or lengthening, were associated with concurrent depressive symptom severity,” said Dr Deepika Goyal of San José State University.
Study authors suggest that women at risk of depression should try to get outdoors more in the winter months and try light therapy to easy symptoms.
“Women should be encouraged to get frequent exposure to daylight throughout their pregnancies to enhance their vitamin D levels and to suppress the hormone melatonin,” added Dr Goyal.
“Daily walks during daylight hours may be more effective in improving mood than walking inside a shopping mall or using a treadmill in a gym.
“Likewise, early morning or late evening walks may be relaxing but would be less effective in increasing vitamin D exposure or suppressing melatonin.”
But what else can pregnant women do to prevent PND?
According to Pre and Postnatal Depression Advice and Support (PANDAS), postnatal depression (often known as PND, or postpartum depression) is an illness that usually occurs within the first year after giving birth.
It causes depressive symptoms such as low mood, anxiety, and withdrawal from others.
A recent survey by Netmums revealed that 50% of mums experienced post-natal depression or post-natal anxiety, while 73% of mums experienced low mood following the birth of their child with 56% experiencing low mood for period longer than six weeks.
According to the NHS although there have been several studies into preventing postnatal depression, there is no evidence that there’s anything specific you can do to prevent the condition developing, apart from maintaining as healthy a lifestyle as possible.
The NCT has some advice on its website offering some suggestions for ways to help combat postnatal depression:-
Their advice includes:-
- Building a support network
- Accepting offers of help
- Opening up about how you are feeling to a friend, family member.
- Taking time out to exercise
- Eating healthily and cutting back on caffeine and alcohol
- Trying Mindfulness – Apps like Headspace can help improve your mental wellbeing.
Other treatments for PND include:-
Psychological therapy – your GP may be able to recommend a self-help course, or may refer you for a course of therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
Antidepressants – if your depression is more severe or other treatments haven’t helped these may be recommended by your GP. Your doctor will be able to prescribe a medicine that’s safe to take while breastfeeding
Organisations such as the Association for Post Natal Illness (APNI) and Pre and Postnatal Depression Advice and Support (PANDAS), can also be useful sources of help and advice.
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