Everyone expects mothers to be overjoyed when their new baby arrives, but for some, the days after childbirth are very scary. They may feel disconnected from the baby or have thoughts about hurting themselves or the child. These are symptoms of postpartum depression (PPD), and a survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that 8 to 11 percent of women reported having these feelings.
“I couldn’t sleep and my mind kept racing,” said Kim Crist, who was hospitalized for PPD shortly after the birth of her daughter. “I couldn’t function, but I didn’t want help – I wanted to pretend I was fine. Thankfully, a neighbor stepped in before it was too late.”
As Mercy in the Springfield, Missouri area adopts a formal PPD screening procedure, Mercy Kids pediatricians will be on the front lines. They see new moms and babies in their offices weeks before the first OB/GYN appointment. They will formally screen mothers beginning at two weeks, although they’ll be on the lookout for symptoms at the child’s first appointment. “Moms may be tearful, sad or disengaged,” explained Mercy Kids pediatrician Dr. Don Sponenberg, who made the push for the new screening program. “If we see the signs, we’ll refer the moms to their obstetricians for appropriate care or send them to the emergency room if help can’t wait.”
Mercy’s Family Resource Center will get involved to provide support, ensure moms keep their appointments and conduct follow-up assessments.
To kick off the program, Mercy hosted a nationally-known speaker to get doctors, Mercy Kids co-workers and community partners up-to-speed on the latest research surrounding postpartum depression. Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, who runs the perinatal psychiatry program at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, says PPD interferes with normal functioning, beyond the typical post-birth hormone shifts. “So if you’re not enjoying the baby, you’re not able to sleep – even when the baby is sleeping – if you find that worries and thoughts are consuming you and really changing the way you interact with others or how you think and if it lasts for more than a few days, then you really need to get checked out.”
Dr. Meltzer-Brody says not getting treated for PPD can lead a mother to commit suicide, and can actually cause neurodevelopmental changes in children, putting them at an increased risk for psychiatric illness. She says screening programs like Mercy’s are important, because they make women aware that PPD is a real medical issue. “Women often don’t report this to a pediatrician or an OB provider because they’re worried they’ll be judged as a bad mom or that someone will come take the baby away. It’s important to know that there are effective treatments and you can get back on your feet.”