Depression and new mothers
Kathleen Kuhlman, MD, is the medical director of the Maternal Fetal Medicine Center at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center.
Question: How important is proper depression screenings for expectant and new mothers and how can depression affect my baby?
Answer: Identifying and supporting new mothers who are at risk for depression is critical – and screening is the best tool we have do that. Patients who undergo such a screening process before leaving the hospital after their child is born have a much better chance of avoiding or at least diminishing the effects of postpartum depression since their physician is better able to diagnose and treat the problem right from the start.
And it’s absolutely critical that women with a history of depression, or those currently taking medication for depression, share that information with their doctor as soon as possible – during pregnancy, not after the child is born. Too often, women who have their depression under control stop taking prescribed medications out of concern for their unborn child. Unfortunately, these women are much more prone to relapsing back into depression. Most often, these women can continue taking medication without harming themselves or their baby.
Antenatal depression, depression suffered during pregnancy, can bring poor judgment, causing the mother-to-be to stop eating properly, neglect proper pre-natal care and may even lead to preterm delivery of the newborn.
In essence, this form of depression turns a regular pregnancy into a risky one.
Identifying true depression in pregnant women can be difficult.
Pregnancy under the best of circumstances is stressful. The pregnant woman is dealing with an incredible change in her life, as well as going through the considerable physical and mental alterations that occur during pregnancy.
And the stress doesn’t stop after the delivery. New mothers face sleep deprivation while caring for their newborn as well as the anxiety of fitting motherhood into their everyday lives. New mothers may worry about balancing their new role with returning to work and caring for the rest of their family.
The good news is depression, during and after pregnancy, is very treatable with your doctor’s help.