UW News

September 11, 2006

Postpartum suicide risk linked to fetal or infant death

Postpartum suicide attempts are strongly associated with fetal or infant death and most commonly occur in the first and 12th months postpartum. Women who experience maternal complications, including labor and delivery complications and cesarean delivery, are not at higher risk for postpartum suicide attempts.

These risk factors may be useful predictors for health care providers who care for women or children during the postpartum period, according to new research by investigators at the Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center (HIPRC). “Adverse Perinatal Outcomes and Risk for Postpartum Suicide Attempt in Washington State, 1987–2001” is published in the September 2006 issue of Pediatrics.

The researchers compared 520 women who were hospitalized for a postpartum suicide attempt with 2204 control women who were not hospitalized for a postpartum suicide attempt in Washington state from 1987 to 2001. They then evaluated whether maternal complications and adverse infant outcome, after controlling for other risk factors, were associated with a hospitalization for a suicide attempt within a year after delivery.

Among the women who were hospitalized for a suicide attempt, the majority used medications such as tranquilizers or psychotropics (34.4 percent) or analgesics, antipyretics, or antirheumatics (29.2 percent). Fewer women used more violent mechanisms, such as a cutting or piercing instrument (6.2 percent), jumping from a high place (0.5 percent), or crashing a motor vehicle (0.4 percent).

The study is the first to examine risk factors for a postpartum suicide attempt. The results are in agreement with previous studies of suicide and suicide attempts that show an association of these attempts with sudden, intense, personal losses such as the death of a relative.

“Postpartum suicide attempts are serious events with a significant impact on women and their families,” says Dr. Melissa Schiff, a University of Washington associate professor of epidemiology and the study’s principal investigator. “Women who experience an infant death should receive careful monitoring and mental health services in the postpartum year.”

In addition to Schiff, the study was conducted by Dr. David Grossman of the Center for Health Studies, Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, Wash. The research was supported by a grant from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.