As we noted earlier today, there’s a new study out that suggests that a simple blood test that checks for a particular hormone level predictive of postpartum depression might be on the horizon. It’s likely such a test is still a few years away, since this was the first study that found such a link. But such a test could act as an early-warning signal to expectant mothers (and their doctors) about possible complications after delivery.
Postpartum depression is a very real and a very serious problem amongst moms. Left untreated, the depression can hurt not only the mother, but the baby after birth as well. Women with depression during pregnancy may eat poorly, not gain enough weight, have trouble sleeping, miss doctor visits and not follow doctor’s directions. Because of these things, a mother might have more trouble giving birth and give birth prematurely to a low birth weight baby.
Untreated postpartum depression can affect a mother’s ability to be a good parent to the baby as well. People who suffer from depression often lack energy and have trouble focusing, making it difficult to meet a baby’s constant needs and attention. This may start a self-reinforcing cycle of feeling guilty that the mom is not good enough and doesn’t deserve to be a parent, causing even greater depression and possible child neglect.
Experts also believe that postpartum depression in a mother can affect her baby. There is evidence that such depression in a mom can cause delays in language development, result in behavior problems and increase crying in the child. Researchers also have linked such postpartum depression to problems with mother-child bonding.
Not everyone is happy with the idea of a hormone test for postpartum depression, however. Deborah Kotz, blogging for U.S. News & World Report, has this concern:
What worries me more is that such a blood test would medicalize depression to the point that ob-gyns will be even less likely to actually ask women how they’re feeling. Thinking back on my three pregnancies, I can’t recall ever being asked if I was coping well either before or after I gave birth. The sad thing is, my experience was not unique.
At a 2007 meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Paul Gluck, a professor at the University of Miami School of Medicine, lambasted his colleagues for not screening for depression, citing a survey showing that only 2 of 50 ob-gyns reported doing so. He pointed out, however, that it can be very challenging for doctors to distinguish real depression from normal pregnancy mood swings. Telling the difference becomes even tougher in new moms, who are exhausted, overwhelmed, and extremely sleep deprived.
I think she raises a good and valid point here. News stories constantly cite a genetic or blood test as some sort of “holy grail” when it comes to determining the existence of a mental disorder such as depression. However, we already have perfectly valid and accurate screening measures that test for things such as depression, that are rarely used in a doctor’s office. Why? Because doctors are either unaware of these screening tests, or trust in their own clinical judgment (even when, as Deborah notes, they have little interest in screening for depression themselves).
We’re still a ways away from a blood test for postpartum depression becoming a reality. In the meantime, I suggest docs use the tools already readily available to them and help expectant mothers be aware of the possibility of postpartum depression. And then take things one step further, and take the time to screen for it directly in office visits with their patients.
Read our news article: Hormone Test to Predict Postpartum Depression
Read Deborah Kotz’s entry: How to Predict Postpartum Depression: Blood Test or Screening?