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Depression Screening Recommended for Pregnant Women, New Mothers

Posted 3/21/2016 by UHBlog

If pregnancy and new motherhood isn’t the joyous time you expected, you’re not alone. Talk to us.

Depression Screening Recommended for Pregnant Women, New Mothers

Pregnant women and new moms are used to and expect to go through physical check-ups during and after their pregnancies. Now, they can expect screenings and questions about their emotional well-being, too.

A federal panel is recommending that everyone over the age of 18 be screened for depression, with particular emphasis on pregnant and postpartum women. This is welcome news to psychologist Sheryl Kingsberg, PhD.

“Women are led to believe that pregnancy and postpartum ought to be this joyous time, but that’s not the case for all pregnant women and new moms,” she says. “In the past, health care providers often ignored this population.”

According to Dr. Kingsberg, one in five women who give birth suffer from depression.

The reasons vary and can include:

  • Hormonal changes
  • Lack of sleep from a newborn or an infant with a difficult temperament
  • Past history or family history of depression
  • A stressful social situation, such as an unplanned pregnancy and/or single/unpartnered relationship status
  • Financial hardship because of a new family member

The women's symptoms might consist of:

  • Loss of interest in things that bring pleasure
  • A sense of guilt
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • A “flat” affect
  • Suicidal thoughts

“When pregnant and postpartum women are depressed, it can have significant consequences – not only on the mother, but on the baby,” she says. For instance, the child of a depressed mother may experience developmental delays and poor cognitive performance, which can extend into their later years.

While the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) depression screening guidelines are new, University Hospitals MacDonald Women’s Hospital has been screening pregnant and postpartum women for a long time, Dr. Kingsberg says.

“We have a UH team already in place – the Division of Behavioral Medicine – which is integrated into the obstetrics and gynecology department,” she says. “We use the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, a 10-question self-rating scale, to screen for pregnancy and postpartum-related mood disorders. Depending on the results, we’re able to make almost seamless referrals to get pregnant and postpartum women seen by experts who can treat them.”

The treatment options might include cognitive behavioral therapy – or talk therapy – and/or drug therapy.

“Many times, simply being screened helps the women’s depression rates go down,” she says. “It legitimizes the concept that depression is real and that it is so common that we regularly screen for it. They know they’re not alone, and this gets them into treatment.

Sheryl Kingsberg, PhD is an expert in human sexuality and Division Chief of Behavioral Medicine at University Hospitals MacDonald Women’s Hospital. You can request an appointment with Dr. Kingsberg or any other University Hospitals doctor online.

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