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Journal Article

Maternal depression in rural Pakistan: the protective associations with cultural postpartum practices


Publication date

15 Jan 2020


Traditional postpartum practices are intended to provide care to mothers, but there is mixed evidence concerning their impact on postpartum depression (PPD). It remains unknown if there is a unique impact of postpartum practices on PPD separately from other types of social support, or if practices differentially affect those with existing prenatal depression. In Pakistan, chilla (چله) is a traditional postpartum practice in which women receive relief from household work, additional familial support, and supplemental food for up to 40 days postpartum. This study aims to understand if chilla protects against PPD independent of other support and whether this relationship varies by prenatal depression status.
Data come from the Bachpan cohort study in rural Pakistan. Chilla participation and social support (Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support) were assessed at 3 months postpartum. Women were assessed for major depressive episodes (MDE) with the Structured Clinical Interview, DSM-IV and for depression symptom severity with the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) in their third trimester and at 6 months postpartum. Adjusted linear mixed models were used to assess the relationship between chilla participation and PPD.
Eighty-nine percent of women (N = 786) participated in chilla and almost 70% of those that participated took part in all of chilla’s aspects. In adjusted models, chilla participation was inversely related to MDE (OR = 0.56;95%CI = 0.31,1.03) and symptom severity (Mean Difference (MD) = − 1.54;95%CI: − 2.94,-0.14). Chilla participation was associated with lower odds of MDE (OR = 0.44;95%CI = 0.20,0.97) among those not prenatally depressed and with lower symptom severity among those prenatally depressed (MD = -2.05;95%CI:-3.81,-0.49).
Chilla is inversely associated with both MDE and symptom severity at 6 months postpartum above and beyond social support. Specifically, chilla is inversely associated with MDE among those not prenatally depressed and with lower symptom severity among those prenatally depressed. This relationship signals an opportunity for interventions aimed at preventing and treating PPD in this region to draw upon chilla and similar traditional postpartum practices in creating community-based, low-cost, sustainable interventions for maternal mental health.

Published in

BMC Public Health







Social Networks, Psychology, Rural Sociology, Childbearing: Fertility, Well Being, Health, Social Behaviour, Sociology Of Households, and Caregiving


Open Access; This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated


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