If you're a fan of long days and lots of sunshine, you may struggle when the seasons change and the days get shorter. For some people, the lack of sunshine triggers depression, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Research shows that natural light has an impact on your mental state and mood, so when the days get shorter in fall and winter, people with SAD tend to get more depressed.
Knowing that depression and sunlight are linked, researchers wanted to look into the effects of reduced natural light on pregnancy, to determine if there was any connection between the shorter days of fall and winter and postpartum depression, or PPD. Their findings are surprising and could be beneficial to women who deliver in late fall or winter.
Postpartum depression is a serious mood disorder that affects one in nine women after pregnancy. It's not the baby blues - PPD lasts longer, and left untreated, can have devastating implications for women and families. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what causes PPD in some women, but new research points to a possible environmental link.
The study, published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, was conducted by a team of researchers in California. They studied data from 273 women who were expecting their first child. The research team divided days into four categories: shortening (Aug. 5 - Nov. 4), short (Nov. 5 - Feb. 4), lengthening (Feb. 5 - May 4), and long (May 6 - Aug. 4).
Researchers found that shorter days during the third trimester or at birth led to significantly higher risk of depression over time. In fact, women whose third trimester came during the shortening day period had the highest risk, at 35%. The results really highlight the need for doctors to be aware of this seasonal risk, so they can better help their pregnant patients.
Frequent exposure to daylight, light therapy, and vitamin D supplementation are all incredibly beneficial to managing SAD, and initiating these treatments and therapies in late pregnancy and postpartum may help lower the risk of PPD in some women. Any time we can reduce the risk of PPD in postpartum mothers, we should make every effort to do so.