Postpartum depression is a very real mental health condition that affects upwards of 25% of mothers within the 6 months of after delivering a baby, but can occur anytime within the first year after birth. It is a condition that we know can affect the health and wellbeing of the baby with lasting effects on later health. It can also impact interactions between mother and baby.
VIDEO: National Institute of Mental Health Video about Postpartum Depression (7 minutes 42 seconds)
Pediatricians have the chance to check in and discuss how mothers are doing since babies are brought to the clinic up to 7 times in the first year. The pediatrician has the time to get to know the family, observe how things are going and to offer support. They can ask how the new mother is adjusting to caring for the baby, including how feedings and sleep is going, whether the support she has from family and friends is adequate and how all other family members are adjusting to the newest family member.
Tapping into how mothers are coping ensures that children and families thrive, especially during those early childhood years when the infant brain is growing and developing at a rapid pace and when positive interactions between parent and the baby lays the foundation for healthy and secure attachment. Research has shown that the father’s mood and mental health is just as important!
RELATED: Sad Dads: Coping with Postpartum Depression (Parenting.com)
More pediatricians are asking these questions and using structured screening tools to ask about postpartum depression during visits; however, according to a national survey the percentage is still less than 50%. There is clearly more work to be done in this arena. However, please know that even if the pediatrician does not ask about your mood and coping during this time, please bring it up and talk about it.
We recently published a study about what happens after mothers screen positive for postpartum depression. You can read the entire study by clicking here. We found that when pediatricians used the term “postpartum depression” during their conversations when sharing the results of the screen with mothers, that mothers were more likely to take the next step and call for an appointment for herself. Yet, only a small percentage of mothers actually follow through and see their obstetrician, family medicine or internal medicine doctor or see a mental health therapist.
To be able to better ensure mothers (and fathers) get the support they need, we need to do more work with pediatricians and families. There is a clear need for more research by talking with and involving parents about potential solutions and then testing these ideas. We need to better understand what gets in the way of new parents from getting the help they need for their mental health during this critical time.