Section 1 Epidemiology and aetiology
Depressive disorder in women within 12 months of childbirth is referred to as postnatal depression (PND).
Although it is similar in symptomatology to depression outside the postnatal period, because of physiological, psychological and social factors unique to the postnatal period, PND is often thought of as a distinct clinical entity.
While prevalence figures vary, it is estimated to affect about one in eight women.1 It is a common cause of maternal morbidity, significantly affecting maternal functioning and quality of life, and is the leading cause of maternal mortality in the UK.2
Effect on relationships
PND can adversely affect maternal bonding, childcare, relationships with family and friends, and the child's emotional, cognitive and behavioural development.
Most women with PND present initially not in specialist perinatal psychiatric services, but in non-specialist settings, often primary care. More importantly, for a range of reasons such as lack of awareness, stigma, fear of their baby being taken away and other patientand clinician-related factors, many post-natally depressed women go undiagnosed and untreated.
This is worrying because there are effective psychological and pharmacological treatments, and better outcomes can be achieved if PND is treated early.
Most women can be successfully managed in primary care.3
Section 2 Diagnosis
It is essential to identify those who are at increased risk of PND but not yet depressed. Risk factors include prior history of depression or mental illness; low mood and anxiety during pregnancy; poor social support; and recent life events. It is crucial that these are looked for during assessment.
Women identified as being at risk for PND should be monitored and, if symptoms develop, referred for further assessment and management.
Two of the more common screening tools are the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS)4 and the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI-II).5
The EPDS, a 10-item self-report scale, is easy to use and quick to complete. Each item is scored from zero to three and a cut-off of 13 or more is most commonly used to detect severe depression.6
BDI-II is a 21-item self-completion scale with good sensitivity and specificity measures. Each item on the BDI-II is scored zero to three and a total score of 14-19 indicates mild depression, 20-28, moderate depression and more than 29, severe depression.
A comprehensive clinical interview, comprising a detailed medical, psychiatric, family, personal and social history, risk assessment (mother and baby) and overall assessment of the baby, is the cornerstone and should inform the formulation of a management plan.
The symptoms of depression are the same, whether they appear in the postnatal period or not (see box below).
|Criteria for diagnosing depression|
Making the diagnosis
In this context, it is crucial to distinguish PND from postnatal blues, a common and normal transient condition, and postnatal psychosis, a rare and severe psychotic disorder occurring in the postnatal period (see box below).
|POSTNATAL PSYCHIATRIC DISORDERS|
POSTNATAL BLUES (BABY BLUES)
Section 3 Management
The type of intervention (support and monitoring, psychological and/or pharmacological treatments) and the setting in which it is provided depend largely on the severity of the PND.
The severity will also determine which professionals are involved in the care of the mother and the baby.
In some cases, dictated by the risk assessment, social services may also be involved. But it is important to remember that most postnatally depressed women can be successfully managed in primary care.
For women at risk of PND, some interventions have been shown to be particularly effective.
NICE guidance recommends offering brief individual psychological therapies, such as interpersonal therapy (IPT) or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and social support through informal individual and/or group support.3
Antidepressants should only be considered if there is a past history of severe depression.
It is also recommended that such women be closely monitored and active liaison with perinatal mental health services be established.
For women with mild PND, non-pharmacological interventions, such as brief IPT or CBT, self-help strategies (exercise, computerised CBT) should be considered. For women with moderate depression, structured IPT or CBT should be considered.
NICE also recommends that pregnant and breastfeeding women needing psychological therapies should be started on such therapies within one month of initial assessment.3 Additionally, antidepressant medication could be considered for those who request it.
For women who have been experiencing severe depressive symptoms, antidepressant medication should be considered at an early stage after discussing the potential risks and benefits.
Referral to specialist perinatal mental health services should be considered if the patient is not responding to treatment, if there is a need for specialist prescribing, or if the patient develops puerperal psychosis and there are concerns about the welfare of the baby.
Section 4 Breastfeeding in postnatal depression
Breastfeeding is not contraindicated in women with PND, except in certain rare circumstances. However, it is important to bear in mind some general principles.7
Most antidepressants are excreted only in small amounts in breast milk and are unlikely to harm the baby.
This only applies provided the baby is mature and healthy with no renal or hepatic dysfunction.
SSRIs such as sertraline and paroxetine have a good safety profile.
Any decision regarding antidepressant treatment should only be taken jointly with the patient and after giving a full explanation of the benefits and potential risks.
At a practical level, the woman should be advised to take her antidepressant medication just before the baby's longest sleep cycle. The baby should be monitored for possible adverse reactions and if there is any doubt about prescribing, specialist advice should be sought.
PND is common and most women present initially to the non-specialist. Effective screening and brief assessment can improve early detection rates.
Early intervention in the form of psychological and/or pharmacological treatments, often in primary care, can successfully treat most postnatally depressed women. Referral to specialist perinatal mental health services is required only in severe cases and for women not responding to routine treatment.
- This article was originally published in MIMS Women's Health. visit www.healthcarerepublic.com/wh
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2. Lewis G, Drife J. Why Mothers Die 2000-2002: The Sixth Report of Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths in the United Kingdom. London, CEMACH/Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, 2004.
3. NICE. Antenatal and postnatal mental health: clinical management and service guidance. CG45. London, NICE, February 2007.
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7. Kohen D. Psychotropic medication and breast-feeding. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment 2005; 11: 371-9.