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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Women with lots of children might be stressed but they are less likely to commit suicide, according to a Taiwanese study that found the more children a woman has, the lower her suicide risk.
A long-standing theory that historically lower suicide rates seen among married versus unmarried women reflects a "protective effect" of motherhood, rather than advantages of marriage per se.
Researchers at Kaohsiung Medical University in Taiwan said this latest study supported that theory.
The study looked at 30 years of data on 1.3 million Taiwanese mothers and found that women with two children were 39 percent less likely than those with one child to commit suicide.
Researcher Dr. Chun-Yuh Yang told Reuters Health that the risk was 60 percent lower among women with three or more children.
The study, reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, was based on birth and mortality records for Taiwanese women who had their first child between 1978 and 1987. Yang followed death rates for the study group through 2007.
Suicide was uncommon regardless of the number of children the women had.
Among women with one child, there were 11 suicides per 100,000 women per year. That rate was seven per 100,000 among women with two children, and just under six per 100,000 among mothers with three or more children.
When Yang factored in a number of other variables -- including the women's age at first birth, marital status and education level -- the number of children a woman had remained linked to suicide risk.
Yang said it was possible that women with a large brood of children benefit from greater emotional or material support when times are tough. Women who have several children also spend a larger share of their lives caring for young children compared with mothers who have one child.
He said mothers who feel "needed" may be less vulnerable to suicide.
However, Yang added that it was also likely that women who are already more vulnerable to suicide -- because of serious depression or other psychiatric illnesses -- tend to have fewer children.
Although the current study included only Taiwanese women, Yang said the findings were likely relevant to other countries with studies conducted in Norway, Denmark and Finland finding a similar relationship between a woman's number of children and her risk of suicide.
Reporting by Amy Norton, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith