Women's Health

Depression Risk No Higher for Older First-Time Moms

mother talking with her son

 (Marina Dyakonova)

Women who have their first baby at an older age aren't at any greater risk of postpartum depression than their younger counterparts, according to an Australian study of more than 500 first-time mothers.

Researchers led by Catherine McMahon at Macquarie University in Australia found that women aged 37 or older were no more likely to get postpartum depression than younger women, regardless of whether they conceived naturally or had infertility treatment.

"Older mothers are frequently discussed in the media. There are a lot of myths, and limited empirical data," McMahon, a psychology professor, said in an email.

There has been speculation, for instance, that older mothers might have a tougher time adjusting to motherhood after being in the workforce for a long time, or have more trouble dealing with the lifestyle changes that a baby brings.

"There is no research evidence to support these speculations," McMahon added, although she noted that it is known that older mothers have a greater risk of pregnancy complications and that these complications have been linked to the risk of postpartum depression.

For their study, reported in the journal Fertility and Sterility, McMahon's team followed 266 women who had conceived naturally and 275 who had undergone fertility treatment.

All of the women answered questionnaires during their third trimester and had a diagnostic interview for depression when their babies were four months old.

Overall, eight percent of the women had major depression symptoms—at the lower end of what's seen among new mothers in general, the researchers said. There were 180 women aged 37 or older.

McMahon said a number of questions remained for future studies, including whether going through menopause while caring for a young child presents challenges.

"There is considerable evidence that vulnerability to depression is greatest in mid-life for women," she said.

She said it would also be interesting to see how older mothers fare when they go back to work, as well as looking at the psychological welfare of women who put off having children and then are unable to conceive.