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A New Study Suggests Postpartum Depression Could Last 3 Years After Giving Birth

Researchers behind a new study published in Pediatrics have found that symptoms of postpartum depression could possibly last several years after giving birth. As such, researchers have suggested that screenings for postpartum depression, also referred to as PPD, be extended to better support new mothers.

Researchers at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found that of the 5,000 women included in the Pediatrics study, 25% experienced "elevated depressive symptoms" three years after giving birth. Researchers also found that mothers with underlying conditions, such as mood disorders or gestational diabetes, were more likely to experience depressive symptoms three years postpartum.

"Our study indicates that six months may not be long enough to gauge depressive symptoms," Diane Putnick, Ph.D., the lead author of the study, said in a statement for the study released Tuesday. "These long-term data are key to improving our understanding of mom’s mental health, which we know is critical to her child’s well-being and development."

To reach their findings, researchers analyzed data from the Upstate KIDS Study, which studied over 5,000 mothers and more than 6,100 children from 57 counties of New York State for three years after the babies were born. According to the study, researchers used a "depression screening questionnaire" to assess the women's symptoms.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), mothers with postpartum depression can experience "intense feelings of sadness, anxiety, or despair that prevent them from being able to do their daily tasks." And while symptoms typically start a few weeks after childbirth, the ACOG notes that postpartum depression can "occur up to 1 year after having a baby."

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The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) currently recommends screening mothers for postpartum depression at one, two, four, and six months after childbirth during their pediatric visits. But researchers behind this new study believe extending postpartum screenings by up to two years could be "beneficial."

The women included in the NIH study were not clinically diagnosed, researchers only assessed their self-reported symptoms, and the majority of mothers who participated were white, which is important to note as NPR reported that Black women receive less treatment for postpartum depression than other mothers. Putnick noted in the study that more inclusive research is needed to represent more diverse knowledge on postpartum depression.

Keri Hanson, licensed clinical social worker and program coordinator for SCL Health's Maternal Mental Health program, told Romper in November 2019 that postpartum depression "often doesn’t resolve without some kind of intervention," which is why support for mothers as well as screenings by their doctors are so essential.

"This is a real important issue for pediatricians because the mother's health and mental well being is directly related to how well their child is doing," Putnick said in a video for Pediatrics. "There's a great deal of research on how the mother's mental health impacts the child's physical, mental and developmental well-being."

If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety during pregnancy, or in the postpartum period, contact the Postpartum Health Alliance warmline at (888) 724-7240, or Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773. If you are thinking of harming yourself or your baby, get help right away by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or dialing 911. For more resources, you can visit Postpartum Support International.

Studies referenced:

Putnick, D., Rajeshwari, S., Bell, E., Ghassabian, A., Goldstein, R., Robinson, S., Vafai, Y., Gilman, S., and Yeung, E. (2020) Trajectories of Maternal Postpartum Depressive Symptoms, Pediatrics, https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/10/12/peds.2020-0857