Not Just the Baby Blues: Screening Can Help Address Postpartum Depression
By Carolyn M.
June 11, 2013
If you know someone who’s
expecting a baby this summer, you have plenty of company. More
babies are born in July, August, and September than in any other
months of the year, according to 2010
Federal data [PDF File,
baby brings joy and excitement. But for some women, it can also
bring on the start of serious depression. Known as
postpartum depression, this condition often starts shortly
after a woman gives birth, but it can also begin up to a year
Signs of postpartum depression
are similar to the symptoms of major depression. They include --
- Feeling sad or depressed
most of the time.
- Having no interest in doing
things a person used to enjoy.
- Losing or gaining a lot of
weight in a short time.
- Being unable to sleep or
sleeping too much.
- Feeling guilty or worthless.
- Thinking about death or
Major depression in women who
have given birth in the previous year affects between 1 and 6
percent of the population. In the first 3 months after giving
birth, the incidence is higher than 6 percent.
New mothers with postpartum
depression have unique needs because they are caring for
infants. When this condition isn’t treated, it can result in a
higher risk of infant death, poor infant development, and a
greater use of unneeded health services for mother and infant, a
2009 report found.
One problem is that the signs of
postpartum depression can look the same as the natural stresses
of caring for a newborn. Who doesn’t know a new mother who has
been up all night-- or several -- with a crying infant? Women who are
exhausted or sad might be mistakenly be diagnosed with this
The good news is that women who
get tested and treated for postpartum depression can recover
faster from the symptoms than women who don’t, according to a
new review from AHRQ’s Effective Health Care Program [PDF
The review, conducted for AHRQ by
Duke University with input from experts in child and maternal
health, looked at 40 studies. About half of the studies used
well-known depression screening tests to assess a woman’s risk.
Women who tested positive for
depression did better when the screening, diagnosis, and
treatment were all provided in the same place. Unfortunately,
when these elements of care aren’t available in the same place,
fewer than half of patients are referred for followup treatment.
Screening for postpartum depression can be helpful, especially
when it’s convenient for patients.
Currently, we don’t have a
"standard of care" -- like the schedule of vaccines for children,
for example -- for the best type of depression screening test, who
should receive it, and when it should be given. And we don’t
have enough evidence about what which approach works best once a
positive diagnosis is made.
Clearly, more research is needed.
Postpartum depression is a serious condition whose signs can
appear at a time when everyone -- new mothers included -- expects just
the opposite. Understanding that it can be tested, diagnosed,
and treated is a big step in the right direction.
I’m Dr. Carolyn Clancy, and
that’s my advice on how to navigate the health care system.
Agency for Healthcare
Research and Quality. Effective Health Care Program
Efficacy and Safety of Screening for Postpartum Depression.
Centers for Disease
Control & Prevention
National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 61, No. 1,
August 28, 2012
U.S. National Library of
Medicine, National Institutes of Health
Postpartum Depression: MedlinePlus
Council, Institute of Medicine
Depression in Parents, Parenting, and Children:
Opportunities to Improve Identification, Treatment, and
Current as of June 2013
Not Just the Baby Blues: Screening Can Help Address Postpartum Depression. June 2013. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/news/columns/navigating-the-health-care-system/061113.html