Mothers-to-be who use pain relief during childbirth may have a lower risk of depression after their babies are born, a leading psychiatrist has said.

New research from China has found that those who have an epidural for pain relief during labour during a normal birth have a lower rate of depression than those who go without.

Those who had the pain relief had a 14% rate of depression at six weeks post-partum compared to nearly 35% for those who did not have an epidural.

The study also found that breastfeeding was more common in the group who had an epidural for pain compared to those who did not.

Commenting on the research, Professor Katherine Wisner, a perinatal psychiatrist at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, said that controlling pain during childbirth and post delivery may reduce the risk of developing the condition.

In an editorial, published in the Anesthesia and Analgesia journal, she said: "Maximising pain control in labour and delivery with your obstetrician and anaesthesia team might help reduce the risk of post-partum depression.

"It's a huge omission that there has been almost nothing in post-partum depression research about pain during labour and delivery and post-partum depression.

"There is a well-known relationship between acute and chronic pain and depression.

"These findings are quite exciting and further research should be done to confirm them, especially in women at increased risk of post-partum depression and in women from other cultures."

She said that pain control gets the mother off to a good beginning rather than starting off defeated and exhausted.

"There is no way to have a delivery without pain. The objective here is to avoid severe pain."

She added: "Controlling that delivery pain so a woman can comfortably develop as a mother is something that makes a lot of sense."