- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a new policy statement on perinatal depression (PND).
- PND is an umbrella term that includes forms of prenatal and postpartum depression.
- The new policy recommends that new mothers be screened five times for PND: Once during pregnancy and again at their baby’s well visits at 1, 2, 4, and 6 months of age.
- PND is the most common pregnancy complication in the US, but an estimated half of cases go undiagnosed or untreated, according to the AAP.
On Monday, American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its recommendations on screening new mothers for perinatal depression (PND), an umbrella term that includes both prenatal and postpartum depression.
According to the new policy, women should be screened for depression once during pregnancy, and pediatricians should screen mothers during a baby’s well visits at 1, 2, 4, and 6 months of age.
Despite previous recommendations that pediatricians look for signs of depression in new mums, a 2013 survey of AAP members found that less than half of pediatricians do so, the policy statement said.
“It is now time to close the gap,” the authors of the statement wrote.
PND is the most common pregnancy complication in the US, but an estimated 50% of women who have it go undiagnosed and untreated, according to an AAP press release about the new policy.
When it does go untreated, PND can negatively affect not just a mother but an entire family.
Research has shown that postpartum depression, in particular, leads to higher medical costs, discontinuation of breastfeeding, family dysfunction, and a higher risk of abuse and neglect, and can also negatively affect a baby’s brain development, the policy statement said.
“We know that postpartum depression can be a form of toxic stress that can affect an infant’s brain development and cause problems with family relationships, breastfeeding and the child’s medical treatment,” Dr. Jason Rafferty, a co-author of the new policy statement, said in the AAP press release. “Pediatricians are in a unique position to help identify parents in need of extra support.”
And in mothers, PND can lead to cause extreme sadness or anger that comes on without warning, anxiety around their baby, feelings of guilt and failure, irritability, less interest in things they used to enjoy, and more, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).
The causes PND aren’t fully understood, but experts think depression during and after pregnancy could be linked to a combination of physical and environmental influences, the NICHD website adds. Several factors can affect the risk of developing PND, including family and personal history, substance use, family violence, chronic illness, poverty, and young maternal age, the AAP press release said.
Talk therapy, or talking to a mental health professional, is one way to treat PND. Doctors may also prescribe antidepressant medications that are safe for mothers to take while breastfeeding, according to the NICHD.
Currently, there’s no known way to prevent PND, the NICHD adds. That makes screening to catch the condition all the more important.
“When we are able to help a mother deal with her mental health, we are essentially reaching the whole family,” Dr. Marian Earls, a lead author of the report, said in the AAP press release. “We have made strides in the past 10 years in education and screening parents for depression. But more work needs to be done, in tackling the stigma associated with mental illness and steering families to the right support.”
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