Physicians should screen mothers for postpartum depression regularly for at least a year following childbirth to better identify women who develop symptoms throughout the year and those whose depression persists, University of Rochester Medical Center researchers say.
"If you only screen early or if you only screen once, you will miss some," said Linda Chaudron, M.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry, pediatrics and obstetrics and gynecology at the Medical Center who is leading a series of studies focusing on postpartum depression.
In a recent analysis of records from a pediatric clinic that uses a common postpartum questionnaire to screen mothers, Chaudron and the research group found that of women who scored high on a depression screening scale sometime in the postpartum year, 26 percent did not develop high symptom levels of postpartum depression until after three months and that 33 percent had high levels throughout the year. The results of the study are published in the July/August issue of the journal Ambulatory Pediatrics.
"I was surprised at the high percentage of women who continued to be depressed throughout the year," Chaudron said.
Earlier this year, New Jersey Governor Jon S. Corzine signed legislation requiring health care professionals providing postnatal care to screen new mothers for postpartum depression, and requiring health care professionals to educate women and their families about the disorder. Health care providers in several other states have adopted similar screening programs.
"With the increased attention to screening, we ought to have a better idea about when to screen," Chaudron said. "There are a lot more women we need to be thinking about, identifying and helping get treatment."
Pediatricians and other physicians who refer mothers for treatment of depression also can help track how mothers are doing, even if they are in treatment.