Experiences from conception to age six have the most important influence of any time in the life

Postpartum Support

Support for Women who Experienced Postpartum Depression

Summary of the Project

Annually in Canada, postpartum depression (PPD) affects up to 25% of new mothers and is the most common health problem after childbirth. Without support, many women suffer months or years of illness that can have negative long-term impacts on family health and on the intellectual, social, and emotional development of children. Even when support services are available, many women with PPD decline intervention. Available postpartum mental health services may be insufficient to meet women’s support needs and additional support interventions are needed. Research has not addressed women’s perspectives of their support needs and preferences for support interventions. Researchers at the University of New Brunswick and at the University of Alberta have conducted a study that sought to characterize the support needs, resources, barriers to support, and preferences for support of women who experienced postpartum depression.

This multi-site exploratory descriptive study, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, utilized participatory approaches to engage mental health service providers and women who experienced PPD. Qualitative and quantitative research methods were used to collect rich descriptive data on the specific support needs, resources, barriers to support, and desires of women who have experienced symptoms of PPD in two cities (Fredericton, NB and Edmonton, AB). Comparisons of the perspectives of women and service providers from these two sites provide rich data for developing the intervention to follow in the planned RCT.

Goals and Objectives

Data were collected from women who experienced PPD and their service providers regarding: (1) supports and services available to women who experience PPD, (2) unmet needs for supports that promote maternal mental health and positive mother-child relationships, (3) barriers to support-seeking and access to support, and (4) preferences for support intervention(s). The ultimate goal of assessment and intervention is to support women’s recovery from PPD, prevent relapse, and promote healthy family and parent-child relationships.


Data revealed that women with PPD have instrumental, informational, and emotional/ affirmational support needs. Compared to women in NB, women in AB revealed a greater variety of service options in their community. Women in both sites identified themselves as the greatest barrier to accessing support services, and they revealed that they frequently masked their symptoms of PPD. Women also identified poor public awareness about PPD and that family, friends and partners lacked adequate knowledge of the signs and symptoms of PPD and were uncertain of how to help. Moreover, the stigma associated with having a mental illness and increased societal pressure to be a “good mother” were powerful barriers to accessing support. When asked what would have helped, the majority of women preferred one-on-one support immediately postpartum and again when PPD is first recognized or diagnosed, followed by group support (consisting of informational, and emotional/affirmational support) once the severity of symptoms has subsided. Findings suggest that a variety of intervention options are needed for women with PPD. Increased public awareness and understanding of PPD may reduce the associated stigma, thereby improving the timely identification and treatment of PPD.

Members of the Team


Principal Investigator:

Nicole Letourneau
Faculty of Nursing
University of Calgary


Cindy-Lee Dennis
Faculty of Nursing
University of Toronto

Miriam Stewart
Social Support Research Program
University of Alberta

Kathleen Hegadoren
Faculty of Nursing
University of Alberta

Jane Drummond
Faculty of Nursing
University of Alberta

Janet Stoppard
Department of Psychology
University of New Brunswick

Christina Rinaldi
Department of Educational Psychology
University of Alberta


Progress to Date

The study has been completed, and the final report is currently submitted for publication.