It impacts 15 to 20% of pregnant and postpartum mothers, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), but depression too often goes untreated because it can be so hard for the mothers who are suffering to ask for help.
Untreated depression can rob new moms of the joy of pregnancy and those early days of parenthood, but new guidelines from the AAP could see moms getting help sooner.
This week the AAP released a new policy statement urging pediatricians to "incorporate recognition and management of perinatal depression into pediatric practice" because research suggests about 50% of moms who are depressed during and after pregnancy now are going undiagnosed.
A mother may not be a pediatrician's patient, but if a pediatrician notices that a mom seems to be struggling, helping her is obviously helping the baby, too.
Dr. Marian Earls, the lead author of the report, explains in an AAP media release: "When we are able to help a mother deal with her mental health, we are essentially reaching the whole family."
Earls' colleague, Dr. Jason Rafferty, says the idea is that by helping moms, pediatricians are proactively caring for the child's health, too.
"We know that postpartum depression can be a form of toxic stress that can affect an infant's brain development and cause problems with family relationships, breastfeeding and the child's medical treatment," he explains.
Prenatal depression impacts way more mothers than people realize, as Motherly previously reported. It's estimated more than 400,000 babies are born to depressed mothers each year. In addition, about one in nine new moms in America experience postpartum depression symptoms, according to the U.S.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As Licensed Master Social Worker Erin Barbossa previously told Motherly, too many mothers have been going undiagnosed or untreated for too long.
"From my perspective, unfortunately, our medical system really lacks putting the mental health lens on unless symptoms are really severe," she explained. "We tend to focus on the physical symptoms related to the health of the baby, and if all of those check out, all is good enough."
The AAP's new guidelines seek to change that, by suggesting mothers get screened for depression once during pregnancy and then again during the baby's appointments at 1, 2, 4 and 6 months old.
The doctors behind the report say more work needs to be done to support parents suffering from depression and in reducing the stigma associated with mental illness, but screening new mothers is a step in the right direction, and could change the lives of entire families.