Emergency Cesareans Raise Depression Risk in New Mothers

February 1, 2019

First-time mothers who give birth by unplanned cesarean section are 15% more likely to experience postnatal depression, according to a study in the Journal of Health Economics.

“Unplanned cesareans may have a particularly negative psychological impact on mothers because they are unexpected, usually mentally and physically stressful, and associated with a loss of control and unmatched expectations,” said study author Valentina Tonei, PhD, of the University of York in England.

Dr. Tonei reached the findings after evaluating data for 5000 first-time mothers from the UK Millennium Cohort Study. After accounting for factors such as the mental health history of the mothers and differences in resources and staffing levels, the study found higher risk of postnatal depression with deliveries that occurred via emergency cesarean section.

Maternal Depression Can Impact Baby's Physical and Mental Health

“The findings of this study are striking because they provide evidence of a causal relationship between emergency C-sections and postnatal depression,” Dr. Tonei said.

The author is calling for increased mental health support for women who undergo an unplanned cesarean section.

“While the financial costs associated with this surgical procedure are well recognized, there has been less focus on the hidden health costs borne by mothers and their families,” Dr. Tonei said. “We hope this new evidence brings the impact on mothers’ mental health into the spotlight.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


Tonei V. Mother's mental health after childbirth: does the delivery method matter? Journal of Health Economics. 2019;63:182-196.

Emergency caesareans put new mothers at higher risk of developing postnatal depression, according to new research [press release]. York, United Kingdom: University of York; January 23, 2019.