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Perinatal complications as a mediator of the association between chronic disease and postpartum mental illness

Aker AM, Vigod SN, Dennis C, Brown HK. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2022; 31(4):564-72. Epub 2021 Jun 2. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1089/jwh.2021.0014


Background — Chronic disease is associated with increased risk of postpartum mental illness, but the mechanisms underlying this association are unclear. Our aim was to explore the mediating role of perinatal complications in the association between chronic disease and postpartum mental illness.

Materials and Methods — This was a population-based retrospective cohort study of all women in Ontario, Canada, from 2005 to 2015 with a singleton live birth and no recent history of mental illness during or 2 years before pregnancy. The outcome was mental illness diagnosis between delivery and 365 days postpartum, with perinatal complications, including pregnancy, delivery, and neonatal complications. Modified Poisson regression models were used to examine the association between chronic disease and perinatal mental illness, with generalized estimating equations for the calculation of total, direct, and indirect effects. All models were adjusted for sociodemographic characteristics and remote history of mental health care.

Results — Of the 792,972 women, 21.1% had a chronic disease. Chronic disease was associated with an increased risk of postpartum mental illness (adjusted relative risk [aRR] 1.15 [95% confidence interval, CI 1.14–1.16]). There was no evidence of an indirect effect of chronic disease on postpartum mental illness via perinatal complications (aRR 1.003, 95% CI 1.002–1.003). Perinatal complications explained only 1.5% of the association between chronic disease and postpartum mental illness. Results were consistent by type of perinatal complication and chronic disease diagnosis.

Conclusion — We observed no clinically meaningful mediating effect of perinatal complications in the association between chronic disease and postpartum mental illness. Future research should investigate alternative mechanisms explaining this association.

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