When most people think about postpartum depression, they think about moms with infants. But new research shows that postpartum mood disorders can appear any time in the three years after a woman gives birth — so it’s important to look for signs of depression in yourself and the moms you love throughout the toddler years.
The research was conducted by scientists at the National Institute of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and was published in the journal Pediatrics. They followed 5,000 women in New York state for three years after they gave birth.
The researchers used a questionnaire that asked the women about their moods and mental health. Although it wasn’t enough to give a formal depression diagnosis, the screening indicated that one in four moms showed signs of postpartum depression — that means we all likely know someone who has experienced postpartum depression.
Because postpartum symptoms showed up throughout the time that the mothers were screened, the researchers said that it would be beneficial for moms to be screened for depression throughout at least the first two years of their children’s lives. Currently, federal recommendations tell pediatricians to screen moms for depression at their babies’ one, two, four and six month appointments, but Diane Putnick, the primary author of the study, said that isn’t sufficient.
“Our study indicates that six months may not be long enough to gauge depressive symptoms,” she said in a news release. “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.”
Health Impacts For Mom And Baby
Postpartum depression doesn’t just impact moms — it can also have longterm health implications for their babies. Being depressed can change the way that a mother interacts with her kids, which in turn can inhibit their development. This impacts children at all different stages: babies whose mothers are depressed may not form a secure attachment, which can cause them to be withdrawn or delayed; toddlers with depressed mothers may be less independent; and elementary-aged kids with depressed mothers may have behavioral issues or struggle with their own mental health.
The impacts on children’t aren’t meant to blame or shame mothers. However, it’s key to recognize that getting help for depression is critical, for your own health and that of your family.
Increased Risk For Postpartum Depression
The new research indicated that some moms are at increased risk for postpartum depression. Women with underlying health conditions ranging from diabetes to mental illnesses were more likely to have severe depression symptoms. Their depression also lasts longer, the study authors found.
If you’re expecting and have a history of depression or have other health conditions, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your mental health ahead of time. Knowing that you are at increased risk isn’t an indication that you’ll definitely experience postpartum depression — in fact, recognizing your risk and planning ahead to mitigate it can help keep you from experiencing depression.
How To Get Help For Postpartum Depression
It can be extremely scary to recognize that you’re feeling depressed during a time that’s supposed to be joyous. That’s why it’s so important that moms talk openly about their mental health challenges.
The first few years of a child’s life are also extremely stressful. In addition, the biological changes that you experience — especially if you’ve given birth or nursed your baby — can have their own impact on your mental health. Postpartum depression is common and nothing to be ashamed of.
If you’re feeling depressed — even if your child is no longer a baby — you should reach out for professional help. Talking to you OB/GYN or other healthcare provider is a great first step. If you don’t have a provider you’re comfortable with, your baby’s pediatrician can also help you. Getting care sooner rather than later can help keep your symptoms under control and promote a healthy relationship between you and your baby.
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