Although I would be the first to agree there is nothing more rewarding than having a child, I must also share that those first few months of a baby’s life can be the most exhausting, frustrating, and yes, even depressing
as well. And while my primary role as a pediatrician is to ensure the health and development of the child, I also find it imperative to monitor the welfare of the parents during this very new and fresh period in their lives.
You see, more than 400,000 babies each year are born to mothers who are depressed (and for those curious, yes, post-partum depression with fathers is also a very real entity). And unfortunately, many of these women are not either being diagnosed and/or receiving the services they need to get them through what can be an extremely tough period in their lives. And without appropriate services, problems such as child abuse/neglect, family discord, and even the discontinuation of breastfeeding may occur. So in order to better address this significant, but very much under-diagnosed, early parenting complication it becomes the role of the obstetrician and pediatrician to monitor mothers more closely.
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) continues to make this one of its priorities secondary to the fact that at least 12% of all pregnant or postpartum women experience depression (and for low-income women this number is even higher). While a family history of depression, alcohol abuse, or a prior history of depression is associated with an increased risk of depression, either prior to or after delivery, more definitive investigation needs to be performed in order that we not miss mothers who need help.
And while there are a variety of questionnaires available to either the physician and/or parent, I would like to highlight one that I will be implementing in my own office that only involves 2 screening questions that comes from the US Preventive Services Task Force:
Over the past 2 weeks:
1. Have you ever felt down, depressed, or hopeless?
2. Have you felt little interest or pleasure in doing things?
Pending the response to these 2 questions, appropriate follow-up and referral, if needed, can then follow.
So while parents need to know they are not alone and help is available, it is also the role of their physicians to help identify any possible concerning scenarios.
- Dr. Jeremy