Psychosocial and psychological interventions for preventing postpartum depression

Postpartum depression is a serious condition of significant public health importance. The purpose of this review was to examine the effect of psychosocial and psychological interventions to reduce the risk of postpartum depression compared with usual care. This review includes data from 28 randomised controlled trials involving almost 17,000 women. The preventative interventions evaluated in the included trials were diverse and the end-points differed widely but the methodological quality was good to excellent. A clear beneficial effect in the prevention of postpartum depression was found from a range of psychosocial and psychological interventions. Promising interventions included professionally-based postpartum home visits, lay- or peer-based postpartum telephone support, and interpersonal psychotherapy. Interventions provided by various health professionals and lay individuals were similarly beneficial. Interventions that were individually-based were beneficial as were those that involved multiple contacts. There is also evidence that interventions initiated postnatally assisted in preventing postpartum depression as were those specifically targeting 'at-risk' mothers. Many questions remain unanswered and additional research is needed.

Authors' conclusions: 

Overall, psychosocial and psychological interventions significantly reduce the number of women who develop postpartum depression. Promising interventions include the provision of intensive, professionally-based postpartum home visits, telephone-based peer support, and interpersonal psychotherapy.

Read the full abstract...

Epidemiological studies and meta-analyses of predictive studies have consistently demonstrated the importance of psychosocial and psychological variables as postpartum depression risk factors. While interventions based on these variables may be effective treatment strategies, theoretically they may also be used in pregnancy and the early postpartum period to prevent postpartum depression.


Primary: to assess the effect of diverse psychosocial and psychological interventions compared with usual antepartum, intrapartum, or postpartum care to reduce the risk of developing postpartum depression. Secondary: to examine (1) the effectiveness of specific types of psychosocial and psychological interventions, (2) the effectiveness of professionally-based versus lay-based interventions, (3) the effectiveness of individually-based versus group-based interventions, (4) the effects of intervention onset and duration, and (5) whether interventions are more effective in women selected with specific risk factors.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (30 November 2011), scanned secondary references and contacted experts in the field. We updated the search on 31 December 2012 and added the results to the awaiting classification section of the review for assessment at the next update.

Selection criteria: 

All published and unpublished randomised controlled trials of acceptable quality comparing a psychosocial or psychological intervention with usual antenatal, intrapartum, or postpartum care.

Data collection and analysis: 

Review authors and a research co-ordinator with Cochrane review experience participated in the evaluation of methodological quality and data extraction. Additional information was sought from several trial researchers. Results are presented using risk ratio (RR) for categorical data and mean difference (MD) for continuous data.

Main results: 

Twenty-eight trials, involving almost 17,000 women, contributed data to the review. Overall, women who received a psychosocial or psychological intervention were significantly less likely to develop postpartum depression compared with those receiving standard care (average RR 0.78, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.66 to 0.93; 20 trials, 14,727 women). Several promising interventions include: (1) the provision of intensive, individualised postpartum home visits provided by public health nurses or midwives (RR 0.56, 95% CI 0.43 to 0.73; two trials, 1262 women); (2) lay (peer)-based telephone support (RR 0.54, 95% CI 0.38 to 0.77; one trial, 612 women); and (3) interpersonal psychotherapy (standardised mean difference -0.27, 95% CI -0.52 to -0.01; five trials, 366 women). Professional- and lay-based interventions were both effective in reducing the risk to develop depressive symptomatology. Individually-based interventions reduced depressive symptomatology at final assessment (RR 0.75, 95% CI 0.61 to 0.92; 14 trials, 12,914 women) as did multiple-contact interventions (RR 0.78, 95% CI 0.66 to 0.93; 16 trials, 11,850 women). Interventions that were initiated in the postpartum period also significantly reduced the risk to develop depressive symptomatology (RR 0.73, 95% CI 0.59 to 0.90; 12 trials, 12,786 women). Identifying mothers 'at-risk' assisted the prevention of postpartum depression (RR 0.66, 95% CI 0.50 to 0.88; eight trials, 1853 women).