Can postpartum depression be prevented?
Twelve weeks of maternity leave may not be enough when it comes to preventing postpartum depression, according to new research in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law.
Researchers followed a group of more than 800 women for a year after they gave birth. Depression symptoms, as well as mental and physical health of the new moms, were measured at six weeks, 12 weeks and six months via telephone interviews.
The results revealed that women who were still on maternity leave at each of those time points had significantly lower postpartum depression scores compared to their peers who had returned to work.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows women to take 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave. But many women are not covered by FMLA or cannot afford to take unpaid leave and are back to work much sooner than what may be ideal for their health, the authors note.
About 7 percent of mothers in the study were back to work by six weeks, 46 percent by 12 weeks, and 86 percent by six months.
“In the United States, most working women are back to work soon after giving birth, with the majority not taking more than three months of leave,” said lead researcher Dr. Rada K. Dagher, in a news release. “But our study showed that women who return to work sooner than six months after childbirth have an increased risk of postpartum depression symptoms.”
Regardless of the length of your maternity leave, it’s important to know what postpartum depression looks like in case you’re one of the 10 to 15 percent of moms affected, says Dr. Eileen Morrison, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill.
“The sooner a new mom detects postpartum depression, the sooner she can get help and begin treatment,” says Dr. Morrison.
If you notice any of the following signs or symptoms, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests contacting your doctor right away:
- Not being able to care for yourself or your baby
- Trouble doing tasks at home or on the job
- Changes in appetite
- Things that used to bring you pleasure no longer do
- Anxiety or panic attacks
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