New method may help predict depression in new mothers: Study

New Delhi: Monitoring a woman’s relationship with her body during pregnancy may help predict how a new mother will bond with her unborn baby and whether she will suffer from depression or anxiety, scientists say. The BUMPS method, developed by scientists at the University of York and Anglia Ruskin University in the UK, is a self-reporting system based on questions relating to satisfaction with appearing pregnant, weight gain concerns, and the physical burdens of pregnancy.

For the study, published in the journal Psychological Assessment, data was collected from more than 600 pregnant women using the BUMPS questionnaire. The research revealed that women who felt more positively about their body changes in pregnancy were more likely to have better relationships with their partners; lower depression and anxiety scores, and were better at interpreting their bodily signals.

Combined scores from the questionnaire provided a strong predictor of whether a pregnant woman would have a positive attachment to their unborn child or not. Low scores, suggested that these women may need additional emotional support during pregnancy and monitoring after birth for signs of postnatal depression.

“Our previous research has demonstrated that there is a relationship between how we perceive our bodies and our emotional state, but the bodily experience is not systematically considered during pregnancy even though it is a time when dramatic bodily changes occur,” said Catherine Preston, an from the University of York. “Women are under constant pressure about their appearance and during pregnancy and after birth is no exception,” said Preston.

“It is important therefore that pregnancy care is not just about the physical health of the mother and the health of the unborn child, but also about women’s emotional wellbeing, which can give us a lot of important information about how they might react to being a new mum in the longer-term,” she said. The questionnaire was taken at each trimester of pregnancy to understand how perceptions of the body might change through the different stages.

Questions in the study range from the type of clothes that a woman decides to wear during pregnancy, to concerns about the size of their ‘bump,’ and any frustrations they might have at not being able to be as physically active as they once were. “There is growing evidence that women’s experience of their body during pregnancy can have a positive or negative impact on both maternal and infant wellbeing, so more should be done within our care systems to protect women against the more negative effects,” Preston said.

“There are many midwives who independently do a fantastic job of offering this support, but currently there is no standardised method or criteria for measuring this to inform the level of care required,” he said. The team plans to assess more women post-pregnancy to understand the longer-term impacts of negative and positive body image on both mother and child.