June 6, 1997 BOSTON -- Two percent of all postpartum women are diagnosed with depression, and 10 to 40 percent exhibit high levels of depressive symptoms. Maternal depression has substantial adverse impact on infant and child social and emotional development.
According to a study of 1,200 women by Kenneth D. Mandl, M.D., M.P.H., assistant in Medicine (Emergency Medicine) at Children's Hospital, Boston, the risk of developing depressive symptoms was elevated three-fold for mothers who brought their infants to a hospital emergency department within the first three weeks of childbirth. Mothers who brought their infants in for frequent problem-oriented primary care visits showed a two-fold risk of developing depressive symptoms.
These health care utilization patterns can help to identify high-risk mothers who need close monitoring.
Mandl's study did not discern cause and effect: A baby's demanding health needs may have an adverse emotional impact on mothers, or mothers may frequently present to the health care system with their babies because of emotional distress.
Referral of mothers by pediatric health care providers recognizing these patterns may facilitate early diagnosis and treatment of postpartum depression, improving outcomes for women and their families.
The research was presented last month at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Washington, DC.
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