Ob-Gyns Encouraged to Screen Women for Depression During and After Pregnancy

Clinical depression is common among reproductive-age women and is the leading cause of disability in women in the US each year. Between 14%-23% of pregnant women will experience depression symptoms during pregnancy and an estimated 5%-25% of women will have postpartum depression. Studies have shown that untreated maternal depression negatively affects an infant’s cognitive, neurologic, and motor skill development. A mother’s untreated depression can also negatively impact older children’s mental health and behavior. During pregnancy, depression can lead to preeclampsia, preterm delivery, and low birth weight.

“As ob-gyns, we recognize that postpartum depression is a serious health issue that we need to direct more attention toward,” says Gerald F. Joseph, Jr, MD, president of The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Postpartum depression is the theme of Dr. Joseph’s 2009-2010 presidential initiative. “Screening for depression during pregnancy is also important to identify it early on and to help prevent a worsening of the condition after delivery.

“With over 4 million births in the US every year, we’re talking about a huge number of women with postpartum depression—between 200,000 to more than one million each year. Unfortunately, we don’t have the data at this time to support a firm recommendation for universal antepartum and postpartum depression screening,” says Dr. Joseph. “Nonetheless, we realize the importance of screening our patients so that we can start gathering the data for future evidence-based guidelines.”

Multiple depression screening tools are available, according to the new Committee Opinion. Women diagnosed with depression during pregnancy or postpartum should be referred for treatment and follow-up evaluation.

Committee Opinion #453, “Screening for Depression During and After Pregnancy,” is published in the February 2010 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

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The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is the nation’s leading group of physicians providing health care for women. As a private, voluntary, nonprofit membership organization of approximately 53,000 members, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly advocates for quality health care for women, maintains the highest standards of clinical practice and continuing education of its members, promotes patient education, and increases awareness among its members and the public of the changing issues facing women’s health care.