By Amy Norton HealthDay Reporter
Of nearly 4,900 new mothers researchers followed, one-quarter had depression symptoms at some point in their child’s first three years. And for about half of them, the symptoms either started early on and never improved, or took time to emerge.
It all suggests women should be screened for postpartum depression over a longer period, said lead researcher Diane Putnick.
“Based on our data, I’d say screening could continue for two years,” said Putnick, a staff scientist at the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, in Bethesda, Md.
Right now, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends pediatricians take on the task of postpartum depression screening. It says they should screen mothers for symptoms at their baby’s routine check-ups during the first six months of life.
That’s both because postpartum depression usually arises in that period, and because babies have frequent check-ups during those months, according to Putnick. So pediatricians are, in a sense, best positioned to catch moms’ depression symptoms, she said.
On the other hand, pediatricians are also limited in what they can do. Mothers are not their patients, so they do not have access to medical records to get the bigger picture — including whether a woman has a history of clinical depression. And they can only suggest that mothers follow-up with their own provider.
“What happens after women are screened?” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, chief medical and health officer for the nonprofit March of Dimes.
“The recommendation is excellent,” he said, referring to the AAP advice to pediatricians. “It’s a great starting point.”
But women’s primary care doctors need to be involved, Gupta said, particularly since postpartum depression can persist, or surface relatively later after childbirth.
For the new study, published online Oct. 27 in Pediatrics, Putnick’s team used data on 4,866 women in New York state. All took part in a research project on infertility treatment and its impact on child development.