Identifying patterns of depression in new moms

2020

Challenge

Postpartum depression can range from mild, short-term feelings of sadness to longer-lasting and more severe mood disorders that can interfere with a mother’s ability to look after her baby and handle daily tasks. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that pediatricians screen for maternal depression at well-child visits up to six months after giving birth. However, postpartum depression can last longer than six months, and it is important to determine how the symptoms may progress and which moms are at greatest risk for experiencing them.

Advance

IRP researchers led by senior investigator Edwina Ho Yee Yeung, Ph.D., followed new mothers for three years after they gave birth to identify and characterize different patterns of postpartum depression symptoms. They observed four different trajectories for the women’s symptoms: stable, low levels; levels that started low but increased over time; initially moderate levels that decreased over time; and high levels of depression that persisted. Women in two of these trajectory groups, which together made up 12 percent of new mothers in the study, experienced depressive symptoms for more than six months. In addition, factors like younger maternal age, lack of college education, a history of mood disorders, and diabetic disorders increased a woman’s risk for persistent depressive symptoms.

Impact

Screening for postpartum depression only in the first six months postpartum would miss some women who develop symptoms later and would make it difficult to determine which mothers would recover and which would stay persistently depressed. This study suggests that screening should be extended past six months and that pediatricians should pay particular attention to women with certain demographic and perinatal risk factors.

Publications

Putnick DL, Sundaram R, Bell EM, Ghassabian A, Goldstein RB, Robinson SL, Vafai Y, Gilman SE, Yeung E. (2020). Trajectories of maternal postpartum depressive symptoms. Pediatrics. Nov 1;146(5):e20200857. doi: 10.1542/peds.2020-0857.