Newborn baby

Having a baby is an exciting, life-changing event, but for many women it signals the beginning of the blues. About 13 percent of new moms struggle with postpartum depression in the year following the birth of their child. New research shows that such depression can be prevented by training health visitors to assess and support these women after childbirth.

University of Leicester Psychiatry Professor Terry Brugha led the prevention study. 1474 women were part of the intervention and 767 women were in the control group. Researchers found that mothers who had the support of trained health visitors were 30% less likely to develop depression six months after childbirth. Promisingly, these benefits continued during the 18 month follow-up. Those women who received usual care, on the other hand, were significantly more likely to become depressed six months after their babies were born.

Postnatal depression often goes undetected. There is a general lack of awareness about the condition, and many mothers don’t realize there are treatment options. Moreover, some women don’t want to take antidepressants, especially if they are breastfeeding. Now we know that health visitors trained in mental health assessment and cognitive behavioral/listening techniques can prevent many cases of postnatal depression.

The findings are published in Psychological Medicine.

Important to know:

  • Depression isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s common in new mothers.
  • Mothers should reduce obligations and seek help.
  • Sleep whenever possible.
  • Eat a healthy diet to balance energy.
  • Talk to other moms with babies. This support is invaluable.

Why are health visits effective? Researchers believe mothers may find it easier to discuss emotional concerns with a health visitor compared to a doctor or psychologist. In any case, women and family members need more education about postnatal depression so that they may recognize the symptoms. Just talking about feelings and getting extra help with caring for the baby can be tremendously helpful for any new mom. Remember, “it takes a whole village.”