Maternal depression and physical health problems in early pregnancy: Findings of an Australian nulliparous pregnancy cohort study

Susan Perlen, Hannah Woolhouse, Deirdre Gartland, Stephanie J. Brown

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15 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: to investigate the relationship between physical health problems and depressive symptoms in early pregnancy. Design: baseline questionnaire, prospective pregnancy cohort study. Setting: six metropolitan public maternity hospitals in Victoria, Australia. Participants: 1507 nulliparous women recruited in early pregnancy. Findings: nine per cent of women (131/1500) scored ≥13 on the EPDS indicating probable clinical depression in early pregnancy (mean gestation=15 weeks). The five most commonly reported physical health problems were as follows: exhaustion (86.9%), morning sickness (64.3%), back pain (45.6%), constipation (43.5%) and severe headaches or migraines (29.5%). Women scoring ≥13 on the EPDS reported a mean of six physical health problems compared with a mean of 3.5 among women scoring <13 on the EPDS. Women reporting five or more physical health problems had a three-fold increase in likelihood of reporting depressive symptoms (Adj OR=3.13, 95% CI 2.14-4.58) after adjusting for socio-demographic factors, including maternal age. Conclusions: the findings from this large multi-centre study show that women experiencing a greater number of physical health problems are at increased risk of reporting depressive symptoms in early pregnancy. Implications for practice: early detection and support for women experiencing physical and psychological health problems in pregnancy is an important aspect of antenatal care. The extent of co-morbid physical and psychological health problems underlines the need for comprehensive primary health care as an integral component of antenatal care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-239
Number of pages7
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013


  • Maternal depression
  • Physical health
  • Pregnancy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynaecology
  • Maternity and Midwifery

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