January 09, 2013
Riya V. Anandwala

Taking Care of Mom, Too

ST. LOUIS - Saint Louis University has received a three-year, $460,000 grant from the Maternal Child and Family Health Coalition (MCHFC) and St. Louis Mental Health Board to expand efforts to detect and treat postpartum depression in new mothers.

Matthew Broom, M.D., is an assistant professor of pediatrics
at SLU. 

Currently, SLUCare pediatricians and pediatric nurse practitioners at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center screen new moms for postpartum depression during routine well baby visits for the first two months of the child's life. The new project, Happy Mothers, Healthy Families, expands the program to include screenings during the first six months of well baby visits, covering a broader period of time to include more mothers who could develop postpartum depression. The new expanded program also will offer on-site counseling and case-management services to help ensure moms get the treatment they need.

Unlike the "baby blues," which affect nearly 70 percent of all women and is considered a normal emotional experience in the first week or two after giving birth, postpartum depression can occur anytime within the first year of a baby's life. Postpartum depression symptoms also last longer and may require intervention, such as counseling and medication.

On average, postpartum depression affects one in eight new mothers. In urban areas, however, where rates of teen pregnancy and poverty are higher, postpartum depression may affect as many as 30 to 40 percent of moms.

"Postpartum depression affects the whole family," said Matthew Broom, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at SLU and project team leader. "Children of depressed mothers are more likely to have developmental delays and attachment issues, and are at greater risk for behavior problems down the road."

"As pediatricians, our number one goal is to have healthy children, and healthy mothers raise healthy children."

Using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, a well-respected tool that screens for postpartum depression, providers will ask moms about feelings of guilt, difficulty experiencing pleasure in life, low energy, sleep disturbance and suicidal thoughts, which are symptoms commonly associated with postpartum depression. For moms whose screenings show they are at risk for postpartum depression, an on-site social worker, clinical psychologist and project coordinator will be available to assist them with an individualized treatment plan.

"The pediatrician's office is a trusted, comfortable and convenient place to reach new mothers; among medical providers, no one sees new moms as often as they do," Broom said. "It's not enough to just diagnose those mothers at risk. We need to help them overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of their treatment, from lack of medical insurance to connecting them with appropriate community resources and addressing the stigma associated with postpartum depression. Our team of professionals will work together to ensure moms get the support and treatment they need, and that no one falls through the cracks. We hope to assist in the building of a stronger community network of mental health services for this at risk group of families."

Follow-up will be key to the success of this program, according to Broom. Project coordinators will check in regularly with moms through text messages, emails and phone calls.

During the second and third year of the grant, Broom says they plan to hire interpreters so they can offer screenings and services for non-English speaking mothers.

The grant is a part of the Improving Maternal Mental Health Initiative, funded by the St. Louis Mental Health Board and facilitated by the MCFHC. The initiative invests in the care of women who are at risk for depression before, during and following pregnancy. Casa de Salud, Family Care Health Centers and Washington University Perinatal Behavioral Health Service also received grants.

Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, infectious disease, liver disease, aging and brain disease and heart/lung disease.

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