Screening for Postpartum Depression

By: Brooke Kyle, MD

New mothers are expected to be radiant, glowing, exuberant. In reality, new mothers are often faced with many challenges: lack of sleep, painful breastfeeding, changes in identity and sense of self, and dealing with their partners’ changes about sense of self.

When these challenges become overwhelming, a woman may resist reaching out for fear she’ll be judged as a bad mother. She feels guilty about her concerns: She’s worried she isn’t bonding with the baby. She loves her baby, but it may be harder to do so at times. She’s upset with her partner who isn’t as supportive as she’d hoped. She’s overwhelmed with friends who seem to barge in unexpectedly. How is she going to get everything done? What about the house? And making dinner? There’s barely time to sleep or take a shower!

These worries can mount up, and it’s easy for a new mother to slip into sadness. One in four women experiences emotional problems during pregnancy and after the delivery. At Women’s Care we want to make sure postpartum adjustment disorders and depression are taken seriously. We want our patients to feel welcomed into a supportive, judgment-free environment to discuss their concerns. We want women to feel free to tell us their scariest thoughts, in hopes that we can help them reach out from the pit of depression.

To increase detection and treatment of postpartum mood problems, Women’s Care, with help from Pacific Source, launched universal screening of all pregnant and postpartum moms by:
• Creating electronic forms that document our screening and discussions about depression
• Training nurses and staff to screen for mood problems, and to coordinate follow-up of patients with difficulties to ensure they get counseling and other treatment,
and that they start feeling better
• Providing educational materials for all patients, and those specifically with difficulties
• Coordinating our efforts with local counselors and with WellMama, a service that supports pregnant and postpartum women with mood disorders

In the first 11 months of these new procedures, we screened 1,756 women for emotional problems. Ultimately, 4.2% of our patients were diagnosed with postpartum depression, which is similar to the national prevalence rate. Of those diagnosed with depression, we were able to reach 95% for follow-up via phone, and many had repeat visits. After two weeks of counseling or medication, 85% of those patients felt better.

There are many examples of women being helped by Women’s Care doctors. During a follow-up phone call, one woman remarked, “My smile is back, thanks to your care. I was feeling so alone and sad, and I didn’t want to tell anyone what I was feeling. Because you asked, and because you supported me, I am now a much happier mommy.”

At Women’s Care, we understand that physical and mental health are closely linked. We’re honored to address not only the physical health of our patients, but their emotional wellbeing, too.