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Why new moms should be checked for depression long before baby is born

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WATCH: A Canadian researcher says doctors need to start checking new moms for depression earlier because many women start experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression either during pregnancy or before. Heather Yourex-West reports – Apr 14, 2017

Brittany Tishenko is a young mother of three little girls, with a fourth baby on the way. Today her family is healthy and happy, but she says her pregnancies were stressful and difficult times.

“It started when I got pregnant with my oldest daughter, Charleigh. My husband and I started fighting a lot. I was angry all the time; I was upset all the time.”

Tishenko says things got so bad during her first two pregnancies, she separated from her husband. Neither of them understood the strain on their relationship was being caused by postpartum depression.

According to Dr. Donna Stewart, a physician and researcher with the University Health Network’s Centre for Mental Health, up to 13 per cent of new mothers experience mild to severe forms of depression around the time of their pregnancy, but only a small number of those women ever get help.

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“A lot of women are not getting identified,” Stewart said.

“There’s a need for more public education and more professional education on this topic, particularly on the prevalence of depression during pregnancy, because that’s the best time to identify it.”

Stewart would like to see perinatal checkups include two questions for women:

  1. During the past month, have you been bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless?
  2. During the past month, have you been bothered by little interest or pleasure in doing things?

Once depression is identified, Stewart says women can be treated a number of ways.

For mild to moderate depression, identifying the problem and offering support or psychotherapy is often effective. For more severe depression, doctors may prescribe an antidepressant that’s been determined safe to take during pregnancy.

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“Depression during pregnancy may alter the outcomes,” Stewart said. “The baby’s more likely to be born earlier or with a small birth weight, so it’s just good to identify depression during pregnancy and get it treated so it doesn’t escalate when baby’s born.”

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It wasn’t until Tishenko’s third pregnancy that a doctor finally recognized her symptoms, allowing her and her family to seek out the support they had needed all along.

“It wasn’t my fault; it wasn’t my husband’s fault. It was just something that we were going through as a family,” she said.

“It was hard on everyone, but just knowing that’s what it was really helped!”

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