A psychiatrist, Dr. Obi Igbokwe has said that if postpartum depression is left untreated, it can last for months and lead to chronic depression.
According to the World Health Organisation, postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbearing affecting approximately 10-15 per cent of women and as such represents a considerable public health problem affecting women and their families.
Igbokwe, who is also the Chief Executive Officer of WellNewMe – a health technology company, added that those who develop postpartum depression are at risk of developing major depression later on in life.
“Even when treated postpartum depression increases the chance of depression occurring in the future.
“When a new mother has depression, it increases the chance that the father may have depression as well.
“The children of mothers with postpartum depression are more likely to have problems with sleeping and eating, crying more than usual, and experience language development difficulties,” he said.
According to him, postpartum depression can afflict either parent after having a baby.
“The risk factors include a history of depression, lack of family and social support, multiple births (having twins, triplets, or more), being a teen mother, having a baby with health problems and marital conflict.
“Symptoms of postnatal depression include long periods of feeling sad, anxious, or ’empty’ mood, feelings of hopelessness or pessimism, feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness, feelings of irritability or restlessness, loss of interest in hobbies and activities, loss of energy, problems concentrating, recalling details, and making decisions.
“Other symptoms include difficulty falling asleep or sleeping too much, overeating or loss of appetite, thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts, aches, or pains that do not get better with treatment.
“Men do experience postpartum depression and it goes undiagnosed, very often, more so than with women,” Igbokwe said.
He, however, recommends that women who have certain risk factors should get postpartum depression screening especially if they are showing signs of the condition two or more weeks after giving birth.
He said mothers should be screened at least once for the condition but “it will depend on their physician.”
“We need a comprehensive system in place in identifying, screening, treating, and providing support for both men and women, ensuring that is widely available and financially accessible,” he said.
Meanwhile, a new study has shown postpartum depression may persist three years after giving birth.
The study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics comprised over 5000 mothers, including 1498 who had used some form of infertility treatment and 1129 mothers of multiple births (45 of whom birthed triplets or higher-order multiples).
The study found that approximately 1 in 4 experienced high levels of depressive symptoms at some point in the three years after giving birth. The rest of the women experienced low levels of depression throughout the three years.
The researchers led by Diane L. Putnick noted that pediatric primary care clinicians should be aware of the different trajectories of postpartum depressive symptoms and the possibility that elevated symptoms can persist for at least three years postpartum.
“This study reveals that assessing depression only once or too early in the postpartum period (ie, at 6 months or earlier, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics may make it difficult to discern the future course. Evidence suggests that a large percentage of mothers with depression do not seek treatment.
“Many women hope that symptoms will abate over time without treatment. Assessing mothers multiple times early and late in the postpartum period and extending the postpartum period to at least 2 years after birth would provide a clearer picture of mothers whose symptoms are persisting or increasing, and mothers who had not already sought treatment could be connected with resources,” they said.
The researchers urged paediatricians to pay particular attention to women who exhibit risk factors for depression.
“Women with a history of mood disorder are at increased risk for initially high and persistent depressive symptoms, medium-level symptoms that abate, and increasing symptoms up to three years after the birth of their child, relative to women who have low-stable symptoms.
“Young mothers and those without college education as well as women who had gestational diabetes mellitus may also be at particular risk for high-persistent depressive symptoms, compared with all other trajectories.
“It is important to note that paediatricians may not have easy access to the mother’s perinatal history because this information is generally stored in the mother’s and not the child’s medical record.
“Consequently, paediatricians may have to ask the mother more questions to assess these factors. In a national survey of paediatricians’ perceived responsibilities for identifying and treating maternal depression (conducted before the release of the AAP screening recommendations), >70 per cent of paediatricians stated that there was insufficient time to obtain the mother’s history and provide counselling and education about maternal depression.
“Routine well-child visits may need to be extended for paediatricians to have the time to assess the mother’s mental health and risk factors, in addition to the child’s health and development. Mothers’ mental health is critical to children’s well-being and development,” the researchers noted.
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