New Guidelines on Postpartum Depression

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently made headlines with the statistic that more than 400,000 babies each year are born to women who will suffer postpartum depression (PPD). Calling PPD the most “underdiagnosed obstetric complication” in the U.S., the report issued a new call for pediatricians to take an active role in screening their patients’ mothers for depression. But the wider community also can take part in helping mothers get the help they need – here’s why.

We are learning more and more about how healthy attachment and bonding helps children feel more secure at home, connected to their world, and positions them to become contributing members of society. According to the AAP study, PPD threatens mother-child attachment, dramatically increases the risk of parental neglect, and adversely affects early brain development. Treatment of the mother’s condition can improve associated depression and other disorders suffered by the child – including conduct disorder, anxiety, and other mood disorders. In short, just like nursing mothers need to watch what they eat, we all need to support new moms because their undiagnosed depression impacts their children’s long-term health, too.

In addition to a longer screening scale, AAP offers pediatricians the following brief, 2-question survey for depression: “Over the past 2 weeks (1) Have you ever felt down, depressed, or hopeless? (2) Have you felt little interest or pleasure in doing things?”

One yes answer indicates a positive screening result, meaning there is a risk of depression and the person should be educated about the symptoms of depression and made aware of support options. Although this information is aimed at pediatricians, all of us who come into contact with young families can be aware of depression’s symptoms and treatment choices. Being a new mom is stressful, anxiety-producing, and doesn’t always look pretty. But sometimes there’s more going on than just sleep-deprivation, and there are many supportive options available as long as we make it safe and welcoming for women to get what they need during this important time.