Earlier this year, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a recommendation in which they strongly urged ob-gyns to begin routinely screening new mothers for depression during and after pregnancy. However, when such screenings do happen, they usually take place in the hospital, shortly after birth, or six weeks later at an after-delivery checkup. But because postpartum depression often shows up in the first week or two after giving birth, many women suffering from depression are still not being diagnosed.
And diagnosing depression in a new mother is important. In addition to mom’s suffering, studies have shown that left untreated, postpartum depression can have a negative impact on a infant’s cognitive, neurologic, and motor skill development. What’s more, depression can interfere with mother-child attachment bonding, which can lead to behavior problems, anxiety and mood disorders through childhood and adolescence.
Recognizing the importance of depression screening in new mothers and aware that many are likely falling through the cracks, the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a report in which they urge pediatricians to begin routinely screening new mothers for depression.
The primary care pediatrician, by virtue of having a longitudinal relationship with families, has a unique opportunity to identify maternal depression and help prevent untoward developmental and mental health outcomes for the infant and family.
In addition to screening for depression, which can effect up to 80% of women shortly after giving birth, pediatricians are also being urged to help demystify the condition. In other words, helping the new mom understand that what she’s feeling is common, that it’s not her fault and that things will get better.
If, during routine infancy visits, a mother is found to have minor depression, or “baby blues,” such demystification may be all it takes to get her through. For more serious cases, AAP says referral may be necessary.
In addition to screening mom, the AAP says that dad’s mental health should be considered as well. Paternal depression is estimated to affect about 6% of new dads and can worsen a situation in which mom is also depressed.
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