Help From Day One

Signs of postpartum depression can be found and managed early in a pregnancy

For your first visit with your OB/GYN after learning that you’re pregnant, be prepared to give—and receive—a lot of information.  Your doctor will need to know, or review, your medical history along with a physical exam. You’ll also be asked to fill out a questionnaire about depression.

This screening is standard practice for doctors like Michelle Gainty, DO, of St. Joseph’s/Candler’s Physician Network – OB/GYN.

“Typically, we screen women at the first prenatal visit, then again during their pregnancy, and finally any or all postpartum follow-up visits,” Dr. Gainty says. “A woman can be at risk for depression throughout this time and up to 12 months postpartum.”

All patients are screened because postpartum depression can happen to anyone. It can also develop after the birth of any child, not only the first.

“I try to remind patients that about one in five women are affected by this,” Dr. Gainty says. “And that I am here to help without judgement.”

Signs of postpartum depression can feel like typical “baby blues,” but they are more severe and last longer. These include:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless or helpless
  • Having little interest in your child
  • Having thoughts of doing harm to your child or yourself

Just as Dr. Gainty guides patients through the physical and medical steps of pregnancy, she will address these mental and emotional aspects as well.

“Counseling helps decrease risk, so I make sure patients who need counseling are able to receive it,” she says. “Following up with patients, seeing how treatment is going and providing all the options available are all part of the entire process.”

There are also medications for depression that are safe to take during pregnancy and, in some cases, can be taken while a mom is breastfeeding as well. For moms who may have thoughts of harming themselves or their baby, the potential risks associated with medication are outweighed by the benefits.

“It can be a challenging time, especially when women are also dealing with hormonal changes and natural discomforts from pregnancy, the extra appointments and preparation, and the regular stressors of daily life,” Dr. Gainty says.

There are some risk factors for depression that can be biological (a previous mental health disorder, a history of smoking or substance abuse) or environmental (childhood neglect, intimate partner violence). However, in many cases the exact cause isn’t known.

“Postpartum depression is common,” Dr. Gainty says. “That’s why screening for it at the first visit has become standard. Not because there is something wrong with you, but because we want to help you every step of the way.”

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