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Verbal abuse during pregnancy increases risk of postpartum depression: survey

Women frequently exposed to verbal violence from their partners during pregnancy are nearly five times more likely to suffer postpartum depression than those who aren't verbally abused, a study conducted in Japan has found.

    The study by researchers including Takeo Fujiwara of the Department of Global Health Promotion of Tokyo Medical and Dental University also found that the ratio of postpartum depression among those exposed to physical abuse during pregnancy was around seven times higher than those who weren't.

    The study indicates that postnatal depression occurs at a considerably high rate among pregnant victims of domestic violence.

    Postpartum depression is often seen over a period of several months from childbirth, with physical symptoms including insomnia and lack of appetite. It is said to affect one in 10 mothers. Because serious cases can lead to suicide or child abuse, a system began this month in Japan to have the central government and local bodies subsidize the cost of medical checks for mothers two weeks and one month after childbirth.

    The survey targeted mothers in 45 Aichi Prefecture municipalities who enrolled in a 3- or 4-month infant health checkup program conducted by municipal governments at public health centers in the autumn of 2012. Responses were received from a total of 6,590 women. Around 9.5 percent could be considered to have postpartum depression, the study concluded.

    In the survey, women were asked how frequently they had been verbally humiliated or yelled at by their partners during pregnancy. Researchers found that the rate of suspected postpartum depression was 4.85 times higher among who answered "often" than those who answered "never."

    When asked how often they had been slapped or beaten up by their partners during pregnancy while having a fight, the rate of suspected depression was 7.05 times higher among those who answered "often" or "sometimes" than among those who answered "never."

    It is easier for hormonal imbalances to occur in women after childbirth, making them susceptible to depression, and it is possible that if women are exposed to verbal domestic violence and become unable to hold a positive image of themselves, this risk could become even more pronounced.

    "Psychological domestic violence is hard to see, and it's possible that men are using language to deny their wives without an awareness of doing so. They need to communicate during pregnancy and be there for their wives emotionally," Fujiwara said.

    The research was published in April in the journal Frontiers in Public Health.

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