What is a postpartum depression screening?
It's normal to have mixed emotions after having a baby. Along with excitement and joy, many new mothers feel anxious, sad, irritable, and overwhelmed. This is known as the "baby blues." It's a common condition, affecting up to 80 percent of new mothers. Symptoms of the baby blues usually get better within two weeks.
Postpartum depression (depression after birth) is more serious and lasts longer than the baby blues. Women with postpartum depression may have intense feelings of sadness and anxiety. It can make it hard for a woman to care for herself or her baby. A postpartum depression screening can help find out if you have this condition.
Postpartum depression is often caused by changing hormone levels. It may also be caused by other factors, such as lack of family or social support, being a teen mom, and/or having a baby with health problems. Most cases of this type of depression can be treated with medicine and/or talk therapy.
Other names: postpartum depression assessment, EPDS test
What is it used for?
The screening is used to find out if a new mother has postpartum depression. Your obstetrician/gynecologist, midwife, or primary care provider may give you a postpartum depression screening as part of a routine postpartum exam or if you are showing signs of severe depression two or more weeks after giving birth.
If your screening shows you have postpartum depression, you many need treatment from a mental health provider. A mental health provider is a health care professional who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health problems. If you were already seeing a mental health provider before giving birth, you may get a depression screening during pregnancy or after delivery.
Why do I need postpartum depression screening?
You may need a postpartum depression screening if you have certain risk factors and/or are showing signs of the condition two or more weeks after giving birth.
Risk factors for postpartum depression include:
- History of depression
- Lack of family support
- A multiple birth (having twins, triplets, or more)
- Being a teen mother
- Having a baby with health problems
Signs of postpartum depression include:
- Feeling sad most of the day
- Crying a lot
- Eating too much or too little
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Feeling disconnected from your baby
- Difficulty completing everyday tasks, including caring for your baby
- Feelings of guilt
- Fear of being a bad mother
- Excessive fear of hurting yourself or your baby
One of the most serious signs of postpartum depression is thinking about or attempting to hurt yourself or your baby. If you have these thoughts or fears, seek help right away. There are many ways to get help. You can:
- Call 911 or your local emergency room
- Call your mental health provider or other health care provider
- Reach out to a loved one or close friend
- Call a suicide hotline. In the United States, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
What happens during a postpartum depression screening?
Your provider may give you a questionnaire called the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS). The EPDS includes 10 questions about your mood and feelings of anxiety. He or she may ask you other questions in addition to or instead of the EPDS. Your provider may also order a blood test to find out if a disorder, such as thyroid disease, may be causing your depression.
During a blood test, a health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.
Will I need to do anything to prepare for a postpartum depression screening?
You usually don't need any special preparations for a postpartum depression screening.
Are there any risks to screening?
There is no risk to having a physical exam or taking a questionnaire.
There is very little risk to having a blood test. You may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.
What do the results mean?
If you are diagnosed with postpartum depression, it's important to get treatment as soon as possible. In addition to medicine and talk therapy, self-care strategies may help you feel better. These include:
- Asking your partner or other loved one to help care for the baby
- Talking to other adults
- Taking a little time for yourself every day
- Getting regular exercise
- Going outside for fresh air when weather permits
Is there anything else I need to know about a postpartum depression screening?
A rare but more serious form of postpartum depression is called postpartum psychosis. Women with postpartum psychosis have hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren't real). They may also have violent and/or suicidal thoughts. If you are diagnosed with postpartum psychosis, you may need to be hospitalized. Some facilities offer supervised units that allow mother and baby to stay together. Medicines, known as antipsychotics, may be part of the treatment.
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