Hanging in my pediatrician's office is a poster that says something like, "The most common pregnancy complication is depression."
Whenever I visit that office with my children, that sign makes a big impact for its bluntness and ability to get quickly to the core of something that affects so many people who are too ashamed—or confused, or something else—to talk about. In fact, one in seven women expereience depression during their pregnancies or in their first year postpartum, and many don't even realize what's going on or report their symptoms to professionals.
A new proposal put forth by the the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is taking aim at the widespread problem. It's now recommending that all women who are pregnant or within a year of giving birth be screened for so-called perinatal depression.
This proposal would serve as an update to the current guidelines, dating back to 2009, which recommend screening in all adults if clinicians are available to address depression care; that version didn't even review the condition in pregnant women and new moms, so didn't make any specific screening recommendations for these categories.
The task force's new recommendation syncs up with that of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. A typical screening involves women responding to a set of questions that should take just a few minutes.
And it's so important: Some recent research suggests that fewer than one in five women with perinatal depression had reported their symptoms to pros who could help.
Why? Well, women may either feel shame about having these feelings during what's supposed to be a happy time, or they might even think some of the symptoms (related to sleep, appetite, libido, and more) are totally normal during pregnancy or in the postpartum period, according to Jeffrey Ecker, an obstetrician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston who chairs ACOG's committee on obstetric practice, cited by CNN.
Of course, "screening for depression alone doesn't make anyone better," he added. "It needs to be linked to resources, such as counseling or, in some cases, medication."
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Alesandra Dubin is a mom to one-year-old boy-girl twins. She's also a Los Angeles-based writer and the founder of lifestyle blog Homebody in Motion. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Google+ and Twitter.