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Pregnant women and new moms can benefit from this key screening

Posted 6/13/2016 by SHERYL KINGSBERG, PHD
Chief, OB/GYN Behavioral Medicine, UH MacDonald Women's Hospital
Professor, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

Sheryl Kingsberg, PhD

Sheryl Kingsberg, PhD

If you are suffering from depression during pregnancy or after childbirth, you aren’t alone. Depression is one of the most common complications of pregnancy, and many new moms have feelings of sadness and anxiety. If untreated, depression can harm women and their children. Yet many women don’t seek help for it. That’s why the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has updated their depression screening guidelines.

For the first time, they are recommending depression screenings specifically for pregnant women and new moms, covered under the Affordable Care Act. With more widespread screening, more women will receive the diagnosis and treatment they need to get better.

Most new moms experience the “baby blues,” feelings of sadness or worry lasting about two weeks after childbirth. For some women, these feelings do not go away and become worse. If you are experiencing this ongoing depression, talk with your doctor. It may be postpartum depression, a mood disorder that affects about 15 percent of new moms.

Pregnant women are also vulnerable to depression, which also affects about 15 percent of expectant moms. Depression that occurs both during pregnancy and up to 12 months after childbirth is called perinatal depression.

What does depression look like?

Pregnant women, new moms can benefit from this key screening

“Depression does not make you a bad mom. It is a medical/psychological disorder, and it is treatable,” says Sheryl Kingsberg, PhD, Chief, OB/GYN Behavioral Medicine at University Hospitals MacDonald Women’s Hospital. Experts believe that hormonal changes may be to blame, but depression is not caused by one thing. While all women are at risk for depression, you may have an increased risk due to:

  • Personal or family history of depression
  • Marital or financial problems (or other major life stressors)
  • Lack of social support
  • Being a teen mother
  • If you have perinatal depression, you may experience symptoms such as:
    • Sadness, anxiety or excessive worry
    • Crying spells
    • Difficulty sleeping (beyond caring for a newborn)
    • Loss of appetite or low energy
    • Hopelessness
    • Thoughts of hurting yourself or the baby

Treatment works

To screen you for depression, your doctor will ask you a series of questions. Answer honestly so you can get the help you need. “Screening is just the first step,” adds Dr. Kingsberg. “After a diagnosis of perinatal depression, your doctor will recommend treatment options and follow-up care.”

Two types of treatment are talk therapy and prescription medicines. Talk therapy, such as cognitive-behavior therapy, is safe and effective for pregnant women and new moms. Sometimes a combination of cognitive-behavior therapy and medication is recommended. While there are some risks to taking antidepressants when you are pregnant or breastfeeding, not treating depression carries risks. Dr. Kingsberg says, “Your doctor will work with you to figure out the right treatment plan. You and your baby don’t have to suffer through depression alone.”

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