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One in seven women experience symptoms of postpartum depression.
Dr. Meghan Walls, PsyD, and Dr. Ashley Anttila, MD, explain how the postpartum depression screener from Nemours Children’s Health can help.

Why is it important for pediatricians to screen new moms for postpartum depression? Dr. Meghan Walls: OBGYNs have the job of seeing moms up until birth, but after birth they only see most parents one to two times. We know that postpartum depression is most common after that visit—around when babies are 4-6 months old. Pediatricians see babies constantly during their first few years of life, and with babies come parents. We know that parents who experience depression have a more difficult time parenting. In fact, research shows that those infants whose mothers experience perinatal depression are at higher risk for insecure attachments and dysregulation. Toddlers of these caregivers are more likely to be at higher risk for poor self-control, internalizing and more difficulty with peers. Taking care of caregivers through education and treatment is just one way to protect children from these risks.

›› Who is most at risk for postpartum depression? MW: Parents with babies ages 4-6 months most commonly experience postpartum depression. First time moms also tend to have a higher rate. Those who have a history of depression and anxiety or have had prior perinatal depression and mood disorders certainly are at higher risk—a great thing to know for new parents as they embark on their parenting journey. Other factors that can put individuals at risk are stressful life events, infants with difficult tempers, lack of sleep, domestic or social concerns, childcare stress and low self-esteem. The reality is that enough parents experience perinatal depressions to warrant screening for all new parents, regardless of risk status.   

›› How has the screening program helped new moms in your practice? Dr. Ashley Anttila:  The care of “our” patients—the babies—is truly hinged upon caretakers’ mental health. We recognized that the whole family can be cared for and guided starting at a pediatrician visit. This screening program led to education throughout primary care offices at Nemours Children’s, which taught our care teams, including pediatricians, care coordinators, social workers, nurses and others, that mom’s mental health is critically important to baby’s health. By providing the right resources, we can help care for mom, and therefore, baby.

›› What are some of the symptoms of postpartum depression? AA: Some symptoms of postpartum depression are feeling sad or hopeless, feeling overwhelmed or having trouble making decisions, doubting your ability to care for your baby, changes in your sleep that are not linked to baby’s sleep, anxiety and worry, exhaustion, anger, changes in your appetite, withdrawing from friends/family/other supports, and thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.

›› What resources does Nemours have for postpartum depression? MW: In some clinics, where integrated primary care psychologists practice on site, they are able to help the medical team with connecting families to resources, and doing brief interventions if they have a background in infant and maternal help. We want to meet people where they are—and at Nemours, that’s in our primary care offices with newborn and infant parents.