Symptoms of postpartum depression can last a full 3 years after childbirth and, in some cases, worsen over time, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics.
The findings may warrant maternal depression screening beyond the postpartum period, researchers advised.
“If screening for depression happens only once, or happens too early after delivery, we may be missing a large percentage of mothers who develop depression,” warned researcher Erin Bell, PhD, of the University of Albany, New York.
The study centered on a population-based birth cohort of 4866 mothers. Researchers assessed the women at 4, 12, 24, and 36 months postpartum and obtained demographic and perinatal conditions from vital records and maternal reports. A quarter of women had elevated depressive symptoms in the 3 years after giving birth, researchers found.
Researchers identified 4 postpartum depression symptom trajectories among women: 74.7% had low symptoms at each wave; 12.6% had initially moderate depressive symptoms that remitted over time; 8.2% of women had initially low but increasing depressive symptoms over time; and 4.5% had high depressive symptoms that persisted throughout the study period.
Young mothers, women without a college education, and those with a history of a mood disorder or gestational diabetes were at higher risk for depressive symptoms.
“Assessing mothers multiple times early and late in the postpartum period—and extending the postpartum period to at least 2 years after birth—would provide a clearer picture of mothers whose symptoms are persisting or increasing so caregivers may connect them with the appropriate resources for support,” Dr. Bell said.