Pregnant women who are obese twice as likely to suffer depression – study

Maternal obesity poses increasing challenges in contemporary obstetrics, research finds

Pregnant women who are obese are twice as likely to experience depression as those with a normal body weight, according to the findings of a new study.

Research by the UCD Centre for Human Reproduction at the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital in Dublin, also revealed that one in six pregnant women attending their first antenatal clinic at the hospital over a nine-year period were classified as obese.

The study examined data on more than 73,200 women who had given birth at the Coombe between 2009 and 2017 and calculated their maternal body mass index (BMI) during their first antenatal check-up.

It found that more than 12,300 women – 16.7 per cent of the total – were obese as they had a BMI of 30 or higher


Overall, 1.6 per cent of those surveyed also reported suffering depression at the time, a figure equating to almost 1,200 women.

However, the rate for experiencing depression was 2.7 per cent among women classified as obese compared to 1.3 per cent among those with normal body weight.

In addition, 7.5 per cent of mothers who had given birth to two or more children reported experiencing postnatal depression.

The prevalence of postnatal depression was higher among those categorised as obese (9.4 per cent) than those with a normal BMI (6.4 per cent).

Pregnant women who were overweight were also more likely to use antidepressants and medicines to relieve anxiety, according to the study, which is published in the Irish Journal of Medical Science.

The authors of the study said the results highlighted the need for implementation of strategies and provision of services for the prevention and treatment of obesity and depression.

They pointed out that maternal obesity and depression are common with both conditions associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes.

Serious challenge

The research found that women who were obese as well as those over 35 years, socially disadvantaged and smokers were more likely to report depression during pregnancy.

Above-average rates of maternal depression were also found in women with unplanned pregnancies and those who took illicit drugs.

The study said maternal obesity had emerged as a serious challenge in contemporary obstetrics as it was associated with an increase in complications such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia and foetal complications including preterm birth and congenital anomalies. It noted an increase in complications and associated medical interventions also increase the economic cost of maternity services.

One of the study’s authors, Dr Emma Tuthill, said the study added to a growing body of literature on the association between maternal obesity and depression.

“The identification of the increased prevalence and risk of antenatal and postpartum mental disorders among women with obesity has important implications for clinical care and future research,” said Dr Tuthill.