postpartum depressionBaby blues is common after birth, but when feelings of depression reach clinical levels, postpartum depression is diagnosed. According to a new research study, patients treated with primary-care programs for 12 months after birth report improvements in postpartum depression, compared to women who do not take part in such care programs. The study was published in the journal Evidence-Based Mental Health – a BMJ journal.

About 2,300 women falling between weeks five and 12 postpartum were included in the study. The women took part in one of 28 primary care programs for postpartum depression. All women were at least 18 years old and spoke either English or Spanish. Care was provided by primary care physicians in family medical practices. To be eligible for the study, practices must have provided maternity care of well-baby check-ups for more than 30 patients in the previous year. Data was collected between March 2006 and April 2010.

For the sake of the study, researchers noted instances of depression screening, evaluation, diagnosis and management. All eligible practices received education and training on how to screen and diagnose postpartum depression – among other clinical education.

About 35% of the women treated at eligible facilities were diagnosed with depression based on evaluation scores. Among facilities trained in postpartum depression, women were more likely to be diagnosed, treated or referred for care with a psychiatric professional. At 12 months, women in the active group were more likely to report improvement in postpartum depression. After six months of treatment no improvement was noted.

Women who attended the eligible facilities that received education on diagnosis and treatment of postpartum depression were more likely to be diagnosed with the condition. Postpartum depression symptoms significantly improved between six and 12 months postpartum with dedicated primary care. Only 50% of the women in the study were prescribed medication for depression and 20% attended counseling sessions. Researchers noted a large majority of the women in the study lost health insurance benefits at eight weeks postpartum, which could have accounted for the low medication and counseling numbers.

Source: Frey BN, Sharma V. A primary care-based treatment programme improves postpartum depression at 12 months. Evid Based Ment Health. 2013 Feb;16(1):6. doi: 10.1136/eb-2012-100976. Epub 2012 Oct 4.