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The Importance of Mental Health Support for New Mothers

One in seven new mothers has postpartum depression. So, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month and Mother’s Day, we’re highlighting the importance of recognizing and treating postpartum depression. 

Bringing home a new baby is an exciting time. However, new mothers may be reluctant to share depressive symptoms. By screening for symptoms early on, care teams can provide additional guidance and support—and even help prevent negative outcomes for mothers and babies.

Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

It’s not uncommon for new mothers to feel overwhelmed, sad, or fatigued after having a baby. However, if the “baby blues” persist for more than a couple of weeks, it may be postpartum depression, which includes the following symptoms:

  • Excessive crying
  • Difficulty bonding with baby
  • Changes in appetite or sleep
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Diminished interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or or inadequacy
  • Reduced ability to concentrate or make decisions
  • Thoughts of death, suicide, or harming oneself or baby

According to the Mayo Clinic, physical changes like shifting hormones and emotional changes like feeling a loss of control or sense of identity can contribute to postpartum depression. The most common types of treatment include talk therapy and medications.

How Postpartum Depression Can Affect Outcomes

The symptoms of maternal depression can not only affect mothers, but their babies too. According to CDC research, postpartum depression has been associated with lower rates of breastfeeding initiation and shorter duration, poor bonding between mother and baby, and even developmental disorders in newborns. These effects can even follow a baby into childhood. One study found that children of mothers with moderate and severe symptoms had decreased stature at nine months and at ages five and six.

Additionally, severe maternal depression can put both mothers and babies at risk of harm, suicide, and infantcide. By screening for and treating postpartum depression, providers can help new mothers and babies achieve better patient outcomes.

The Importance of Screening & Care Collaboration

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that OBGYNs and other obstetric care providers screen patients at least one time for depression symptoms during the perinatal period. Additionally, ACOG recommends that all obstetric care providers “complete a full assessment of mood and emotional well-being (including screening for postpartum depression and anxiety with a validated instrument) during the comprehensive postpartum visit for each patient.”

The primary care pediatrician can also play a very important role in identifying postpartum depression quickly, which can help prevent adverse outcomes. In fact, pediatricians may be the first clinician to see the mother and baby after birth. This early access can enable pediatricians to screen for maternal depression, provide guidance, and refer mothers to follow-up with their OBGYN, primary care provider, or mental health provider.

A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes that screening for postpartum depression is part of family-centered, well-child care and emphasizes the importance of effective communication and collaboration between pediatricians and the mother’s obstetrician or primary care provider.

By getting all members of both the mother’s and infant’s care team on the same page, postpartum depression can be quickly identified and managed in a collaborative manner. By treating symptoms shortly after onset, care teams can help ensure that mothers, newborns, and their families have positive health outcomes and the support they need during a perhaps overwhelming, but otherwise very happy time of bonding.

Brittany Eastman
Content Marketing Specialist