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Preventing Postpartum Depression

Key is identifying women at risk early, says prof

The key to preventing postpartum depression may be to provide the mother with individual support from a health professional after she has given birth, and to tailor this support to the mother’s needs, says a U of T researcher.

“Health professionals want to identify pregnant women who may be at risk for postpartum depression in hopes of initiating preventive strategies,” says U of T nursing professor Cindy-Lee Dennis. “But in my review of studies from around the world, I found no preventive effect of any strategy initiated before birth, including prenatal classes specifically targeting postpartum depression. It’s not because the interventions are theoretically weak, but it’s because compliance is low – women are busy and don’t attend the classes.”

Dennis conducted a systematic review of trials involving 7,697 women. Her study, published in the July issue of British Medical Journal, suggests postpartum depression may be preventable. In analyzing the prevention strategies used, Dennis found an overall 19 per cent reduction in postpartum depression. Individual assessment and intensive support provided by a health professional to at-risk women after they give birth was the most successful approach; group-based strategies weren’t as effective. Risk factors for postpartum depression include psychiatric history, a significant number of life stressors and lack of support.

“Individual, flexible postpartum care provided by a health professional and based on maternal need may have a preventive effect,” Dennis says.

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