Depression affects as many as 1 in 7 new moms, but health experts just recommended an effective treatment that could prevent it

There's an evidence-backed way to treat perinatal depression, experts say.

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There’s an evidence-backed way to treat perinatal depression, experts say.
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PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images

  • As many as one in seven women has perinatal depression (PND), an umbrella term that includes both prenatal and postpartum depression.
  • In a new recommendation released Tuesday, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) says there could be an effective way to prevent it.
  • According to the recommendation, counseling is associated with a 39% lower risk of perinatal depression.

Perinatal depression – the umbrella term for both prenatal and postpartum depression – affects as many as one in seven women, according to a new recommendation published by a panel of US health experts. Now, that panel has concluded there could be an effective, science-backed way to prevent the condition, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

This week, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent, volunteer panel of disease prevention experts, published a recommendation statement saying counseling is effective for preventing perinatal depression.

“What’s been known for a long time is how devastating the consequences of undetected, untreated depression can be both for the new parent, for the developing infant, or for the baby during its first year of life,” Karina Davidson, Ph.D, a member of the task force and the senior vice president of research at Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, told INSIDER. “We felt it was important to determine if there was evidence that prevention could occur to stop the depression from happening in the first place.”

The panel made the recommendation after reviewing previously published studies on a range of possible interventions for PND, including physical activity, education, expressive writing, infant sleep training, dietary supplements, and more. There was limited evidence that the other interventions were effective, but counseling was associated with a 39% lower risk of PND, the recommendation said.

The panel recommended counseling for any pregnant or postpartum people who are at increased risk of developing PND. Although there’s currently no accurate screening test for determining this risk, the panel noted that there are certain factors doctors can use to determine who may be more likely to develop PND, including a history of depression, symptoms of depression, and being a young or single parent.

This recommendation is also significant because it means that, under the Affordable Care Act, insurers must now cover PND counseling with no co-pays, the New York Times reported.

The USPSTF said that two specific types of counseling were shown to be effective: Cognitive behavioral therapy, which aims to change unhelpful thought or behavior patterns, and interpersonal therapy, which focuses on a patient’s relationships with other people.

Perinatal depression has negative effects on both mothers and their children

Perinatal depression can cause extreme sadness, anxiety, and more.

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Perinatal depression can cause extreme sadness, anxiety, and more.
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REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

PND increases the risk of suicide and suicidal thoughts in mothers, the USPSTF reported. PND can also cause mothers to experience extreme sadness or anger that comes on without warning, anxiety around their baby, feelings of guilt and failure, irritability, less interest in things they used to enjoy, and more, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

Read more: Half of women with maternal depression are undiagnosed and untreated. New screening recommendations aim to change that

PND is also linked with a higher risk of preterm birth and low birth weight in babies and can negatively affect children’s cognition and emotional development, according to the USPSTF recommendation.

Research has also shown that postpartum depression, in particular, leads to higher medical costs, discontinuation of breastfeeding, family dysfunction, and a higher risk of abuse and neglect, according to a policy statement published in December 2018 by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“I think the most important takeaway is that perinatal depression is not inevitable,” Davidson said. “We have excellent behavioral counseling prevention approaches that can help avert this illness altogether.”

This post has been updated to include comments from Karina Davidson.