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NPR Health

Depression Screening Recommended For Pregnant Women, New Mothers

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

A national panel of health experts is calling for all adults to be routinely screened for depression. The new recommendation emphasizes pregnant women and new mothers. NPR's Patti Neighmond reports.

PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening women for depression both during pregnancy and after delivery. It estimates about 1 in 10 women suffer depression during pregnancy or in the first 12 months after delivery. And after the baby's born, Dr. Hal Lawrence, with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, says a mother's depression can easily break the very special emotional bond.

HAL LAWRENCE: You know, the mother starts to feel like she's not doing her job. She feels her baby doesn't love her. Her baby won't connect with her. And it really just spirals the dysfunction and the potential tragedy of postpartum depression.

NEIGHMOND: Mothers feel helpless, even hopeless, and babies in turn often find it hard to connect, not interacting much and having difficulty being consoled. Even so, fewer than 20 percent of women ever even seek help, says Lawrence, probably because they're embarrassed and fearful.

LAWRENCE: This is supposed to be a joyous time. And then all of a sudden this is not joy. They are not connecting with their baby. And so to go in and say that they feel this way is so anti-maternal they wonder what people are going to think about them.

NEIGHMOND: When women are successfully diagnosed, treatment can be highly effective. It includes psychotherapy and medications like antidepressants. Recent research raised concerns that certain antidepressants can cause birth defects, like cleft palate. But Lawrence says that's unlikely.

LAWRENCE: They're very low. That's the discussion that you have to have with your patient and so she understands that she's far better being healthy during her pregnancy and after her pregnancy and being on her antidepressants and that the risk to her infant is incredibly small.

NEIGHMOND: Lifestyle changes can also make a difference, says Lawrence, a healthy diet, regular exercise and a good night's sleep. Patti Neighmond, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.