The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is advising doctors to screen new mothers for postpartum depression more thoroughly. A clinical study by the AAP has found that depression in mothers can have a negative effect on infant development, beginning as early as two months.
According to estimates, postpartum depression occurs in 5 percent and 25 percent of new mothers. Major depression can happen between 1 percent and 6.8 percent of the time in the first year. These numbers mean that as many as 400,000 infants are born each year to mothers suffering depression, something that could strongly affect many of the critical early developments that infants make during that first year of life.
“The processes for early brain development — neuronal migration, synapse formation, and pruning — are responsive to and directed by environment as well as genetics,” they wrote.
If uncared for, depression can account for an increased risk of neglect, abuse, inappropriate medical care, and family dysfunction. If early bonding and attachment is prevented due to the depression, cognitive and social development can be damaged, as early as 2 months. These can also manifest as anxiety and depression in the child as he grows older.
Doctors are advised to ask new mothers if they are feeling down, depressed, or hopeless, or has little interest or pleasure in activities. These questions can be tips that the mother is suffering from some postpartum depression. Support, education, and referrals if necessary can help a mothers to work through the depression. Even doctors who have no training in depression can help a mother simply by letting her know that she is not alone.
“The primary care pediatrician, by virtue of having a longitudinal relationship with families, has a unique opportunity to identify maternal depression and help prevent untoward developmental and mental health outcomes for the infant and family,” the AAP report concluded.
“Baby blues,” a short period of crying and feeling anxious after the birth of a child affects nearly 80 percent of new mothers. This usually goes away within weeks. Depression, however, can last much longer and have a stronger effect on how a mother is able to cope and care for her child. Having a supportive partner is extremely important during this time. – Summer, staff writer
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