More than depression: A multi-dimensional assessment of postpartum distress symptoms before and after a residential early parenting program

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Introduction: Parents are vulnerable to psychological distress symptoms in the postpartum period. It is routine to screen for depressive symptoms, but anxiety, stress, fatigue, irritability and insomnia symptoms are less often assessed despite their prevalence. This study aimed to assess multiple dimensions of psychological distress, and their reliable change and clinically significant change among women admitted to a residential program for assistance with unsettled infant behaviors (UIB). Method: Women admitted to a five-night residential early parenting program completed self-report measures: the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale, Irritability Depression Anxiety Scale, Fatigue Severity Scale, and Insomnia Severity Index. A sub-group completed a computerized emotional Go-NoGo (EGNG) task as a measure of emotional impulsivity. Results: Seventy-eight women were recruited (M age = 34.46, SD age = 4.16). On admission, 48% of women reported clinically elevated depressive symptoms and 97.5% of women not reporting elevated depressive symptoms reported clinical elevations in at least one other form of distress. Upon discharge, all self-report distress symptoms were significantly reduced (all p-values <.001), but reliable and clinically significant change only occurred in a subgroup of women. There were no significant changes in indicators of impulsivity based on the EGNG. Conclusions: In addition to, and often in the absence of, depressive symptoms, women attending an early parenting program experienced a wide range of psychological distress, including fatigue, insomnia, anxiety and stress. Different forms of distress improved in different magnitudes to the treatment provided. These findings highlight the need for a multi-dimensional approach in the assessment and treatment of postpartum distress.

Original languageEnglish
Article number48
Number of pages11
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jan 2019


  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Impulsivity
  • Insomnia
  • Postnatal
  • Postpartum

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