A recent National Institutes of Health study found that about 1 in 4 women experienced high levels of depressive symptoms at some point in the three years after they gave birth, leading researchers to recommend postpartum screening for longer periods of time.
The study looked at 5,000 women and also found that the other 3 in 4 women had experienced low levels of depression in the three-year span past giving birth. Researchers from NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) identified four different trajectories of postpartum depressive symptoms, as well as the factors that may increase their risk for the elevated symptoms of depression.
Dr. Diane Putnick is the primary author of the research and a staff scientist in the NICHD Epidemiology Branch. She said the long-term data they’ve gleaned is critical to understanding how a mother’s mental health changes postpartum, as her mental health is key to her and her child’s well-being and development.
Currently, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers are screened for postpartum depression at some of their children’s well-checks. These include the one-, two-, four- and six-month well-checks.
The new research suggests, however, that screening for postpartum depression should extend well past those initial well-child checks and up to at least two years past childbirth for maximum detection and benefit for mothers.
The scientists looked at women’s symptoms using a short five-item depression screening questionnaire. The women were part of the Upstate KIDS study, and gave birth to babies born in New York from 2008-2010. The women were followed for three years past their children’s births.
The study’s screening did not clinically diagnose depression in the women, however. It did find that women who had preexisting underlying conditions like mood disorders or gestational diabetes were more likely to have higher depressive symptom levels, and those characteristics seemed to persist through the study.
They also noted that the majority of the study’s participants, though from 57 different counties in New York, were white, non-Hispanic women. Dr. Putnick hopes that future studies will include a more diverse, broad population so there is more inclusive data about postpartum depression.
Women who exhibit symptoms, even years after giving birth, should consider talking with their doctor about the possibility of postpartum depression. Some symptoms include:
- Crying/feeling hopeless or sad regularly
- Avoiding social interaction
- Mood swings
- Feelings of guilt or shame
- Feelings of inadequacy
- Loss of interest in things you typically enjoy
- Feelings you may want to hurt yourself or others
- Excessive anxiety
While it’s not unusual to have fleeting symptoms listed above, particularly right after baby is born, it’s never a bad idea to talk with your doctor or health professional to find additional resources, support and even treatment if it’s warranted.
**If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, or are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor.