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Concise Review for Physicians and Other Clinicians: Postpartum Depression

      Abstract

      Postpartum depression (PPD) is a common, potentially disabling, and, in some cases, life-threatening condition. Fortunately, PPD is also readily detectable in routine practice and is amenable to treatment by a wide variety of modalities that are effective for treating nonpuerperal major depression. Postpartum depression screening can improve case identification (an Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale score of ≥13 indicates a high risk of PPD) and, when associated with a diagnostic and follow-up program, leads to improved clinical outcomes. Symptom severity, patient preference, past response to treatment, availability of local mental health care resources, and patient decisions about breast-feeding will drive management decisions. In general, cognitive-behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy are preferred psychotherapies for women with mild to moderate PPD, whereas antidepressants are appropriate in more severe cases. Many patients will require other types of assistance, such as parenting support, case management, or care coordination because many barriers to receiving adequate PPD treatment must still be overcome.

      Abbreviations and Acronyms:

      DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, 5th edition), EPDS (Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale), IPT (interpersonal therapy), PHQ-9 (Patient Health Questionnaire 9), PPD (postpartum depression)
      CME Activity
      Target Audience: The target audience for Mayo Clinic Proceedings is primarily internal medicine physicians and other clinicians who wish to advance their current knowledge of clinical medicine and who wish to stay abreast of advances in medical research.
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      Credit Statement: Mayo Clinic College of Medicine designates this journal-based CME activity for a maximum of 1.0 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s).™ Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.
      Learning Objectives: On completion of this article, you should be able to (1) describe the clinical features, onset, and course of postpartum depression, (2) identify appropriate tools and how they are used in screening for postpartum depression, (3) outline a clinical system to conduct appropriate screening and evaluation of postpartum depression, and (4) evaluate and select appropriate initial interventions for patients diagnosed with postpartum depression.
      Disclosures: As a provider accredited by ACCME, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine (Mayo School of Continuous Professional Development) must ensure balance, independence, objectivity, and scientific rigor in its educational activities. Course Director(s), Planning Committee members, Faculty, and all others who are in a position to control the content of this educational activity are required to disclose all relevant financial relationships with any commercial interest related to the subject matter of the educational activity. Safeguards against commercial bias have been put in place. Faculty also will disclose any off-label and/or investigational use of pharmaceuticals or instruments discussed in their presentation. Disclosure of this information will be published in course materials so that those participants in the activity may formulate their own judgments regarding the presentation.
      In their editorial and administrative roles, William L. Lanier, Jr, MD, Terry L. Jopke, Kimberly D. Sankey, and Nicki M. Smith, MPA, have control of the content of this program but have no relevant financial relationship(s) with industry.
      The authors report no competing interests.
      Method of Participation: In order to claim credit, participants must complete the following:
      • 1.
        Read the activity.
      • 2.
        Complete the online CME Test and Evaluation. Participants must achieve a score of 80% on the CME Test. One retake is allowed.
      Participants should locate the link to the activity desired at http://bit.ly/1i29fcu. On successful completion of the online test and evaluation, you can instantly download and print your certificate of credit.
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      Date of Release: 6/01/2014
      Expiration Date: 5/31/2016 (Credit can no longer be offered after it has passed the expiration date.)
      Questions? Contact [email protected] .
      Postpartum depression (PPD), the onset of depressive episodes after childbirth, is the most common postnatal neuropsychiatric complication. Postpartum depression affects 10% to 20% of women after delivery, regardless of maternal age, race, parity, socioeconomic status, or level of education.
      • Gavin N.I.
      • Gaynes B.N.
      • Lohr K.N.
      • Meltzer-Brody S.
      • Gartlehner G.
      • Swinson T.
      Perinatal depression: a systematic review of prevalence and incidence.
      Postpartum depression can lead to impaired maternal functioning and child development.
      • O’Hara M.W.
      • McCabe J.E.
      Postpartum depression: current status and future directions.
      • Gjerdingen D.K.
      • Yawn B.P.
      Postpartum depression screening: importance, methods, barriers, and recommendations for practice.
      Yet, fewer than half of PPD cases are diagnosed in clinical practice, thus prompting vigorous efforts at improving case detection and implementing evidence-based treatment.
      • Gjerdingen D.K.
      • Yawn B.P.
      Postpartum depression screening: importance, methods, barriers, and recommendations for practice.
      This article provides a clinical update on the etiology, risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment of PPD.

      Clinical Features

       Diagnostic Criteria

      There is no specific diagnostic classification for PPD. However, signs and symptoms of PPD are identical to those of nonpuerperal major depression,
      • Gjerdingen D.K.
      • Yawn B.P.
      Postpartum depression screening: importance, methods, barriers, and recommendations for practice.
      and major depressive episodes are diagnosed by using the usual criteria, but with a pregnancy or postpartum onset specifier. Previously adopted diagnostic criteria for PPD (major depressive disorder, with postpartum onset) required an onset of major depressive episodes within 4 weeks after childbirth (Table 1). The “postpartum onset” specifier has been criticized because a large number of diagnosed PPD episodes actually begin during pregnancy.
      American Psychiatric Association
      Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.
      Thus, recently updated diagnostic criteria in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) now classify major depressive episodes “with peripartum onset,” encompassing cases with symptom onset during pregnancy or in the 4 weeks after delivery.
      American Psychiatric Association
      Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.
      Table 1Keys to the Diagnosis of Postpartum Depression
      1. Establish diagnostic threshold for major depressive disorder (MDD): 5 or more of 9 signs or symptoms (a through i below) persisting for2 wk, with at least 1 being an essential diagnostic feature (a or b below):
       • Essential diagnostic features:
      a. Persisting depressed moodHave you been feeling depressed or down most of the day, nearly every day? How long has it lasted?
      b. Persisting anhedoniaHave you lost interest or pleasure in things that you usually enjoy? How long has it lasted?
       • Additional diagnostic signs and symptoms:
      c. Changes in appetite or body weight (increase or decrease)Has your appetite changed from normal during the time you have been feeling depressed? Have you started eating (more/less) than usual? Did you intend to (gain/lose) weight?
      d. Persisting insomnia or hypersomniaHave you noticed any changes in the amount or quality of your sleep during the time you have been feeling depressed? How many yours a night compared with normal? Do you have problems falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early (or a combination of these)?
      e. Changes in psychomotor activity (agitated or slowed)Have you been so fidgety or restless that you couldn’t sit still? Have others noticed (what did they say)? Have you or others noticed that you have been talking or moving more slowly than usual?
      f. Persisting fatigue or energy lossHave you felt tired or run down all the time, or nearly every day, during the time you have been feeling depressed?
      g. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guiltHave you been feeling worthless on a daily or near-daily basis during the time you have been feeling depressed? Have you been feeling more guilty than usual about mistakes, things you have done, or even things you have not done?
      h. Persisting problems concentrating or making decisionsHas it been harder for you than normal to maintain your focus or think through things during the time you have been feeling depressed? Has it been harder to make everyday decisions?
      i. Recurring thoughts of death or suicideHave you been thinking a lot about death, or that you might be better off dead? Have you been thinking of hurting yourself? Have you done anything to hurt yourself? Are you having these thoughts now?
      2. Establish peripartum onset of depression according to updated (DSM-5 criteria):
       Previously adopted (DSM-IV-TR) diagnostic criteriaUpdated (DSM-5) diagnostic criteria
       • MDD with postpartum onset: onset of depressive symptoms within 4 wk postpartum• MDD with peripartum onset: onset of depressive symptoms during pregnancy or within 4 wk postpartum
      3. Link depressive signs and symptoms with maternal dysfunction: “Has your depression caused you to have any problems with …”
       • … your ability to take care of yourself, eat right, or maintain your hygiene?… your relationships, such as family, friends, or your partner? … maintaining connection with others in your life?
       • … your ability to take care of your baby, or feel close to (him/her)?… your ability to work, study, or keep up around the house?
       • … your ability to breast-feed (for those who choose to)?… your ability to deal effectively with life stressors and solve problems (specify the most important problems)?
      4. Estimate the severity of symptoms on the basis of their level of impact on daily functioning:
       Mild: mild disability, but can function normally with considerable extra effortModerate: clear maternal dysfunction; cannot be overcome with extra effort, but not incapacitatedSevere: inability to function in most if not all important life domains; suicidal thinking is often prominent
       Otherwise, the 10th item on the PHQ-9 (“… how difficult have these problems made it for you …”) can be used to estimate depressive symptom severity:
       Mild = PHQ-9 item 10 “somewhat difficult”Moderate = PHQ-9 item 10 “very difficult”Severe = PHQ-9 item 10 “extremely difficult”
      5. Rule out postpartum thyroid disorders, anemia, and other medical illnesses that overlap with depression
       • Consider: complete blood cell count (CBC), thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), vitamin D level, vitamin B12 and folate level, and other laboratory screening tests as otherwise indicated
      6. Rule out psychiatric disorders that overlap with major depression (as discussed in the article text)
       • Screening questions for past mania or hypomania can include the following:Have you ever had a period of time in your life when you were not feeling like yourself because your mood and your energy were unusually high, and the speed of your thoughts was unusually fast? Did others tell you or become concerned that you were behaving abnormally or talking too fast?
      7. Screen for common comorbid psychiatric disorders (eg, anxiety and substance use disorders, as discussed in article text), and associated illness features of potential concern (obsessive thoughts of harming the infant, psychotic signs and symptoms)
       • Screening questions for pathological anxiety can include the following:Do you also have problems with anxiety, panic attacks, or worry that you can’t seem to control? Do these problems interfere with your ability to function in any way? How often does this occur?
       • Screening questions for alcohol abuse can include the following:How often do you have a drink? Has your drinking caused problems for you? Have you felt you ever needed to cut back or stop drinking because of this? Have you taken a drink to try to reduce your depression? Has anyone expressed concern about your drinking?
       • Screening questions for other substance abuse can include the following:Have you ever used street drugs? Have you ever gotten hooked on a prescribed medicine or taken one to get high (specify name of medicine[s])? Have you ever taken more than you were supposed to?
       • Screening questions for obsessive thinking (not necessarily a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder) can include the following:Have you ever been disturbed by thoughts that made no sense, but kept coming back, even when you tried to ignore them? Like being contaminated by germs, or hurting someone else even if you really didn’t want to? Some women even have thoughts about harming their baby that really upset them because they don’t want to do that—have you also had these kinds of thoughts?
       • Screening questions for psychosis can include the following:Do you ever hear things that others can’t, such as noises or voices of other people? Do you ever hear voices that tell you to harm yourself or your baby? Have you been concerned about people talking about you, spying on you, or planning to do bad things to you? Do you receive special messages from the TV, radio, newspaper, or the Internet? Have you felt that you were especially important or powerful in some way, or had special powers to do things that others can’t do? Have you been concerned that you have terrible disease or physical problem doctors can’t explain or fix? Have you been concerned that you have committed some sort of crime or done something so terrible that you need to be punished?
      DSM-5 = Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition; DSM-IV-TR = Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, Text Revision; PHQ-9 = Patient Health Questionnaire 9.
      Currently, depressive episodes occurring after the end of the fourth postpartum week would not meet DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for “peripartum onset.” The 4-week time frame after delivery for defining PPD, however, may be overly conservative. Indeed, longer time frames (up to 12 months postpartum) have been used in research studies to define PPD.
      • O’Hara M.W.
      • McCabe J.E.
      Postpartum depression: current status and future directions.
      Furthermore, the onset of depressive episodes remains high for several months after delivery in postpartum women (see below). And finally, in practical terms, women are usually available for depression screening between 4 and 12 weeks during routine postpartum follow-up, and it seems unlikely that the optimal time for PPD screening and evaluation would end at 4 weeks postpartum.

       Onset and Course

      The prevalence of PPD appears to peak at 2 to 6 months after delivery, and as many as 14.5% of postpartum women may experience a new depressive episode within 3 months after delivery.
      • Gavin N.I.
      • Gaynes B.N.
      • Lohr K.N.
      • Meltzer-Brody S.
      • Gartlehner G.
      • Swinson T.
      Perinatal depression: a systematic review of prevalence and incidence.
      Most patients experience mild depressive symptoms; however, 10% to 15% will have more severe symptoms that clearly worsen maternal functioning. Postpartum depression persists for more than 7 months after delivery for 25% to 50% of women, and many remain depressed after 1 year.
      • Sit D.K.
      • Wisner K.L.
      Identification of postpartum depression.

       Consequences

      Postpartum depression is associated with impaired mother-infant bonding, negative parenting practices, unsuccessful breast-feeding, and marital discord, as well as worse cognitive and social development in offspring.
      • O’Hara M.W.
      • McCabe J.E.
      Postpartum depression: current status and future directions.
      • Gjerdingen D.K.
      • Yawn B.P.
      Postpartum depression screening: importance, methods, barriers, and recommendations for practice.
      However, remission of maternal depression reduces the risk of behavioral problems and psychiatric symptoms in offspring.
      • O’Hara M.W.
      • McCabe J.E.
      Postpartum depression: current status and future directions.
      • Pilowsky D.J.
      • Wickramaratne P.
      • Talati A.
      • et al.
      Children of depressed mothers 1 year after the initiation of maternal treatment: findings from the STAR*D-Child Study.
      A previous episode of PPD increases the risk of future episodes of PPD, a future diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and nonpuerperal major depressive episodes.
      • O’Hara M.W.
      • Swain A.M.
      Rates and risk of postpartum depression–a meta-analysis.
      Postpartum depression is a risk factor for maternal suicide, which accounts for up to 20% of postpartum deaths.
      • Lindahl V.
      • Pearson J.L.
      • Colpe L.
      Prevalence of suicidality during pregnancy and the postpartum.

      Differential Diagnosis and Comorbidity

       Differential Diagnosis

      Disturbed sleep and appetite are normal postpartum occurrences; however, the onset of clinically significant depression and anxiety should prompt clinicians to consider a diagnosis of PPD. Coexisting medical conditions that can mimic or exacerbate PPD include postpartum thyroid disorders and anemia. Deficiencies in selected micronutrients (eg, B vitamins and vitamin D) have been linked with nonpuerperal major depression, but a firm association with PPD has not been established.
      Signs and symptoms of several psychiatric conditions overlap with PPD, and must be ruled out. These include the following:
      • Postpartum blues occurs in 50% to 80% of new mothers. Signs and symptoms appear within 1 to 2 days postpartum and include depressed mood, anxiety, tearfulness, irritability, poor appetite, and sleep problems. These changes are mild and resolve spontaneously within 10 to 14 days
        • Sit D.K.
        • Wisner K.L.
        Identification of postpartum depression.
        ; however, up to 25% of the patients with postpartum blues develop PPD.
        • Josefsson A.
        • Berg G.
        • Nordin C.
        • Sydsjö G.
        Prevalence of depressive symptoms in late pregnancy and postpartum.
      • Postpartum psychosis is a rare (<2 cases per 1000 postpartum women) but serious condition characterized by delusions, hallucinations, severe and rapid mood swings, sleep disturbances, and obsessive preoccupation about the baby. These signs and symptoms emerge within 1 to 4 weeks after delivery and require urgent evaluation and hospitalization given a high risk of suicide and infanticide.
        • Sit D.
        • Rothschild A.J.
        • Wisner K.L.
        A review of postpartum psychosis.
        Antipsychotic treatment is usually required to manage hallucinations, delusions, and agitation; electroconvulsive therapy may be needed if antipsychotic agents are ineffective or poorly tolerated.
        • Sit D.
        • Rothschild A.J.
        • Wisner K.L.
        A review of postpartum psychosis.
        The risk of recurrence with future deliveries after an index postpartum psychosis episode is high.
        • Sit D.
        • Rothschild A.J.
        • Wisner K.L.
        A review of postpartum psychosis.
        Therefore, women with a history of postpartum psychosis must be closely followed during the postpartum period.
        • Sit D.
        • Rothschild A.J.
        • Wisner K.L.
        A review of postpartum psychosis.
      • Bipolar disorders (type I or II) are characterized by episodes of depression, mania, hypomania, and mixed episodes (depression concurrent with mania). Bipolar and major (unipolar) depressive episodes have the same general diagnostic criteria
        American Psychiatric Association
        Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.
        but a history of manic, mixed, or hypomanic episodes distinguishes bipolar depressive episodes. This distinction is important because pharmacotherapy for bipolar and unipolar depression is markedly different. The postpartum period is a period of high risk for new-onset or recurrent bipolar depressive episodes, and in DSM-5, the peripartum onset specifier can be applied to both bipolar and unipolar depressive episodes.
        American Psychiatric Association
        Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.
        Brief screening tools for bipolar disorder are available,
        • Hirschfeld R.M.
        • Calabrese J.R.
        • Weissman M.M.
        • et al.
        Screening for bipolar disorder in the community.
        but psychiatric referral may be needed to establish a bipolar disorder diagnosis.
      • Bereavement may occur in response to termination or loss of pregnancy, or neonatal death. The rapid emergence of intense feelings of grief, poor sleep and appetite, and rumination about the loss can mimic PPD. Significant losses can also precipitate PPD episodes. Psychological support and careful follow-up are recommended.

       Psychiatric Comorbidity

      Anxiety disorders and substance abuse are common in women with PPD. Women with PPD frequently experience panic attacks, obsessions, or compulsions. Obsessions and compulsions may be particularly distressing and can commonly include thoughts about harming oneself or the infant. However, they are recognized by the mother as intrusive and irrational, and these symptoms do not generally predict suicide or infanticide.
      • Sit D.K.
      • Wisner K.L.
      Identification of postpartum depression.
      Still, obsessions about harming oneself or the infant warrant careful evaluation to rule out postpartum psychosis.
      Women with substance use problems, including use of alcohol, illicit drugs, and cigarettes, are at high risk for developing PPD.
      • Clare C.A.
      • Yeh J.
      Postpartum depression in special populations: a review.
      Comorbid substance use worsens prognosis and treatment response in patients with nonpuerperal major depression, and similar effects in women with PPD may be expected. Screening for comorbid substance use disorders can help tailor treatment interventions to address co-occurring disorders.

      Causes and Risk Factors

       Etiology

      The causes of PPD are unknown; however, the pathophysiology of PPD is thought to involve interactions between biological susceptibility and other risk factors (discussed below). Genetic factors; declines in reproductive hormone levels (ie, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone); changes in thyroid, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, and neuroactive steroid functioning; and abnormalities in neurotransmitter, cholesterol, and fatty acid activity are being investigated, but no single causal factor has emerged.
      • Zonana J.
      • Gorman J.M.
      The neurobiology of postpartum depression.

       Risk Factors

      A large number of risk factors for PPD have been identified (Table 1). In general, history of depression or anxiety problems (puerperal or nonpuerperal), absent or inadequate support at home, ongoing stressful life events, low income, and emotionally abusive or other relationship problems with the partner appear to have moderate to strong predictive effects for PPD.
      • O’Hara M.W.
      • McCabe J.E.
      Postpartum depression: current status and future directions.
      • Robertson E.
      • Grace S.
      • Wallington T.
      • Stewart D.E.
      Antenatal risk factors for postpartum depression: a synthesis of recent literature.
      Patients with a history of premenstrual dysphoric disorder or depressive symptoms while taking oral contraceptives may also be at a higher risk for PPD.
      • Buttner M.M.
      • Mott S.L.
      • Pearlstein T.
      • Stuart S.
      • Zlotnick C.
      • O’Hara M.W.
      Examination of premenstrual symptoms as a risk factor for depression in postpartum women.
      Other higher risk groups include adolescent mothers and mothers of preterm babies.
      • Clare C.A.
      • Yeh J.
      Postpartum depression in special populations: a review.

      Clinical Evaluation

       Screening

      Depression screening in the general population is recommended by the US Preventive Services Task Force,

      The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force: the guide to clinical preventive services 2007. Publication No. 07-05100. 2007. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK16363/. Accessed January 14, 2014.

      but routine PPD screening has not been widely adopted.
      • Gjerdingen D.K.
      • Yawn B.P.
      Postpartum depression screening: importance, methods, barriers, and recommendations for practice.
      Effectiveness studies of PPD screening have shown improved rates of depression diagnosis and treatment, and a few also demonstrate improved PPD outcomes.

      Effective Healthcare Program. Efficacy and safety of screening for postpartum depression. AHRQ Publication No. 13-EHC064-EF. 2013. http://www.effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/ehc/products/379/1437/postpartum-screening-report-130409.pdf. Accessed January 14, 2014.

      The effect of PPD screening programs on clinical outcome may depend on availability of adequate mental health resources, important nonclinical services (such as transportation, child care, case management, lactational, and parenting support), and insurance coverage.
      Institute of Medicine
      Depression in Parents, Parenting, and Children.
      Screening should occur between 2 and 6 months after delivery at postpartum or well-child visits.
      • Gjerdingen D.K.
      • Yawn B.P.
      Postpartum depression screening: importance, methods, barriers, and recommendations for practice.
      Several effective PPD screening tools are available. The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) is a 10-item self-report questionnaire that takes 5 minutes to complete.
      • Cox J.L.
      • Holden J.M.
      • Sagovsky R.
      Detection of postnatal depression: development of the 10-item Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale.
      An EPDS score of 13 or more is an accepted cutoff score for identifying patients at risk for PPD.
      • Sit D.K.
      • Wisner K.L.
      Identification of postpartum depression.
      The Patient Health Questionnaire 9 (PHQ-9; with an elevated cutoff score of ≥10) is an alternative to the EPDS that may be more familiar to primary care clinicians and can also be used to assess depression severity and monitor effects of PPD treatment.
      • Yawn B.P.
      • Pace W.
      • Wollan P.C.
      • et al.
      Concordance of Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) and Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) to assess increased risk of depression among postpartum women.
      Special attention should be paid to affirmative responses to the EPDS and PHQ-9 items that address suicidal ideation, regardless of the total scores. Fathers are at risk for depression if their partners develop PPD
      • Clare C.A.
      • Yeh J.
      Postpartum depression in special populations: a review.
      and may also benefit from depression screening. Postpartum depression screening should not be undertaken until a program for PPD evaluation, diagnosis, and follow-up is linked to the screening program.
      • Yawn B.P.
      • Olson A.L.
      • Bertram S.
      • Pace W.
      • Wollan P.
      • Dietrich A.J.
      Postpartum depression: screening, diagnosis, and management programs 2000 through 2010.

       Evaluation and Diagnosis

      The EPDS and other screening measures provide a basis for further clinical evaluation but should not be considered a substitute for a detailed clinical interview and diagnostic tests, where indicated. The objectives of the clinical evaluation are as follows: (1) to establish that diagnostic criteria for PPD are met; (2) to assess suicide and infanticide risk; (3) to distinguish PPD from medical or other psychiatric disorders discussed above; and (4) to identify important psychiatric comorbidities or associated symptoms (such as anxiety, obsessions, psychosis, and substance use disorders) (Table 1). All prescription and over-the-counter medications, drug use, smoking status (and amount smoked), and herbal or homeopathic remedies should be recorded during evaluation and throughout treatment.
      The effect of maternal depressive symptoms on functional status during the postpartum period should also be assessed (Table 1). Important domains of maternal functioning include personal care and hygiene, care of the infant, breast-feeding success or difficulties, maintaining the household, participation in social activities, and ability to work.
      • Clare C.A.
      • Yeh J.
      Postpartum depression in special populations: a review.
      Current stressors, level of social and financial support, and quality of relationships with the partner and others should be queried. The effect of depressive symptoms on daily functioning can be grossly estimated using the final item on the PHQ-9 that assesses how difficult depressive symptoms have made it to work, perform usual duties, or function in relationships.
      Evaluation of medical history should include any chronic or active medical problem, psychiatric diagnoses, and treatment (including hospitalizations, medications, and nonpharmacological treatments [eg, psychotherapy and electroconvulsive therapy]). The effectiveness, tolerability, and reasons for discontinuing specific treatments are also included in this assessment. Personal and family history of PPD and postpartum psychosis should also be specifically examined.

      Management

       Treatment Approach

      Patients who screen positive and meet diagnostic criteria for PPD need prompt treatment (Table 2). Achieving remission of maternal depression improves the psychiatric health of not only the mother but also her children.
      • Pilowsky D.J.
      • Wickramaratne P.
      • Talati A.
      • et al.
      Children of depressed mothers 1 year after the initiation of maternal treatment: findings from the STAR*D-Child Study.
      Therefore, the goal of depression treatment is to achieve remission of depressive symptoms. In general, treatment decisions are driven by the severity of PPD symptoms, patient preferences, past response to treatment(s), availability of local mental health resources, and patient choices about breast-feeding. Involving the patient’s support system in treatment planning may help the patient feel less burdened with difficult decisions about which interventions to choose. Monitoring clinical response with validated patient-rated depression scales, such as the PHQ-9, can be a useful adjunct to clinical observation and more general patient self-report.
      Table 2Key General Management Considerations for PPD
      1. Factors to consider when planning treatment:
       • Severity of depressive signs and symptoms• Concurrent medical and psychiatric diagnoses
       • Depression history/response to treatment• Current medications (including over-the-counter)
       • Patient preferences regarding treatment• Local mental health care resources
       • Choices about breast-feeding• Psychosocial supports
      2. Involve the patient’s support system in treatment planning decisions, when appropriate
      3. Consider case management or care coordinator for women who are eligible for such services based on economic, logistic, and clinical factors
      4. Generate a reasonable menu of treatment options based on depressive symptom severity and decision to breast-feed. For example:
       SeverityBreast-feeding (Yes/No)Options
       Mild to moderateYes or no• Psychotherapy (interpersonal therapy [IPT] or cognitive-behavioral therapy [CBT]) considered first-line

      • Weaker evidence supports nondirective counseling for short-term benefit
       Moderate to severeNo• Antidepressant medication, with or without psychotherapy

      • Psychotherapy alone is still reasonable for many, as long as depressive symptoms are carefully tracked

      • Adding an antidepressant becomes higher priority in patients not responding well to psychotherapy
       Moderate to severeYes• Antidepressant medication, with or without psychotherapy

      • Many women elect not to receive antidepressants. If this occurs, psychotherapy alone is still reasonable, as long as depressive symptoms are carefully tracked

      • Antidepressants are higher priority when depressive symptoms persist or worsen in spite of nonpharamacological treatment, or when depressive symptoms are severe

      • Hospitalization, antipsychotic medication, and/or ECT if psychotic symptoms are present
      5. Consider other psychosocial treatment options based on individual patient factors and available resources.
       Group psychotherapy• Depressive symptoms are mild to moderate

      • May benefit patients who struggle with isolation and low psychosocial support
       Marital or couples therapy• Same as above, but prioritize if marital strain or difficulties with partner are clearly contributing to depression

      • IPT can address interpersonal contributors to depression if the patient prefers an individual psychotherapy approach, if the spouse/partner is unwilling or unavailable for therapy, or if local resources do not support marital/couples therapy
       Nondirective counseling• Depressive symptoms are mild, and symptoms can be carefully tracked

      • Other resources are available should longer-term depression management be needed
       Community supports• These are not generally considered stand-alone treatments for PPD

      • Local support groups and organizations can be helpful by providing peer-to-peer support and, occasionally, assistance with logistical difficulties
      6. When choosing among antidepressants, consider past treatment response and available lactational safety data:
       • Previously effective antidepressants (PPD or nonpuerperal major depression) should generally be given higher priority

       • Otherwise, sertraline, paroxetine, fluvoxamine, and nortriptyline have the most evidence of lactation safety based on low (though not absent) infant exposure through breast-feeding and fewest reported adverse effects
      7. Nursing infants of mothers who are treated with antidepressants should be monitored for side effects (below). Infant blood levels of antidepressants do not generally need to be monitored
       • Drowsiness• Poor feeding
       • Irritability• Poor weight gain
      8. Consider referral to specialty mental health services when:
       • Severe depression• Suicidal or homicidal ideation (urgent)
       • Depression not responding to first-line treatment• Infanticidal ideation (urgent)
       • Comorbid anxiety or obsessions• Psychotic signs and symptoms (urgent)
       • Comorbid substance abuse• When uncomfortable managing the case
       • Bipolar disorder suspected
      ECT = electroconvulsive therapy; PPD = postpartum depression.

       Mild to Moderate Depression

      Psychotherapy is considered first-line treatment for patients with mild (minimum diagnostic criteria met, negative effect on daily activities overcome with extra effort) or moderate PPD (symptoms cannot be overcome with extra effort, but are not incapacitating). Cognitive-behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy (IPT) are time-limited approaches delivered over 10 to 20 weekly sessions. Both are associated with moderate to large reductions in PPD symptoms in controlled trials.
      • Sockol L.E.
      • Epperson C.N.
      • Barber J.P.
      A meta-analysis of treatments for perinatal depression.
      • Craig M.
      • Howard L.
      Postnatal depression.
      For patients with PPD who elect to forego formal psychotherapy or in areas where cognitive-behavioral therapy and IPT are unavailable, weaker evidence supports the use of nondirective counseling for short-term benefit, but longer-term effectiveness is uncertain.
      • Craig M.
      • Howard L.
      Postnatal depression.
      If psychotherapy and counseling are unavailable or unacceptable to the patient, or if depressive symptoms become more severe, a trial of antidepressants can be considered.
      Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol Committee
      ABM clinical protocol #18: use of antidepressants in nursing mothers.
      These recommendations apply to women with mild to moderate PPD, whether or not they are breast-feeding.

       Moderate to Severe Depression

       Not Breast-Feeding

      For women with moderate to severe PPD who are not breast-feeding, antidepressant medication with or without psychotherapy is recommended. This also includes women with initially mild PPD that increases in severity, or moderate PPD that is poorly responsive to psychotherapy alone. No single antidepressant has shown greater benefit over others for treating PPD. Therefore, antidepressants that have been helpful and well tolerated in the past are preferred, with continuation of effective antidepressant treatment for at least 6 months to prevent relapses. For antidepressant-naive patients, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as fluoxetine, paroxetine, and sertraline may be considered on the basis of limited evidence in patients with PPD and established effectiveness for treating major depression in the general population.
      • Craig M.
      • Howard L.
      Postnatal depression.
      Otherwise, family history of positive response to a given antidepressant for PPD or nonpuerperal major depression can help guide antidepressant selection. If there is a strong preference for psychotherapy alone, this approach can be supported as long as depressive symptoms are carefully tracked.

       Currently (or planning) Breast-Feeding

      Addressing PPD symptoms in the context of breast-feeding can be challenging. Breast-feeding has numerous documented short- and long-term health benefits for mother and child. But these benefits must be weighed carefully against risks of untreated PPD and risks and benefits associated with antidepressants. All antidepressants are passed from maternal plasma to breast milk; thus, many women may prefer psychotherapy over medication while breast-feeding. Again, if there is a strong preference for psychotherapy alone, this approach is reasonable if depressive symptoms are closely monitored.
      A role for antidepressants is more evident when depressive symptoms persist in spite of nonpharmacological interventions, and when maternal illness is clearly interfering with self-care, care of the infant, or interaction with the infant or other children. Use of a single agent with an acceptable lactation safety profile at a minimum effective dose is preferred. Antidepressants that have been effective and well tolerated during past PPD or nonpuerperal major depressive episodes are given higher priority but should be initiated at low doses to limit adverse effects. Sertraline is thought to be relatively safer than other agents because of lower translactal passage and fewer reported effects on the infant.
      • Fortinguerra F.
      • Clavenna A.
      • Bonati M.
      Psychotropic drug use during breastfeeding: a review of the evidence.
      • Davanzo R.
      • Copertino M.
      • De Cunto A.
      • Minen F.
      • Amaddeo A.
      Antidepressant drugs and breastfeeding: a review of the literature.
      Secondary options with most evidence of lactation safety include paroxetine, fluvoxamine, and nortriptyline.
      • Fortinguerra F.
      • Clavenna A.
      • Bonati M.
      Psychotropic drug use during breastfeeding: a review of the evidence.
      • Davanzo R.
      • Copertino M.
      • De Cunto A.
      • Minen F.
      • Amaddeo A.
      Antidepressant drugs and breastfeeding: a review of the literature.
      Paroxetine is a US Food and Drug Agency pregnancy category D drug based on risk of congenital (primarily cardiac) malformations with first-trimester use; however, this does not apply to the use of paroxetine during the postpartum period.
      Mothers who are taking antidepressants should be closely followed. Effective antidepressant treatment should continue for at least 6 months to prevent relapse. Infant behavior should be monitored for adverse effects such as drowsiness, poor feeding/weight gain, and irritability. If high antidepressant doses or multiple medications are required, breast-feeding may need to be discontinued. Pumping and discarding breast milk during estimated times of peak antidepressant drug concentrations in milk or taking antidepressants immediately after breast-feeding is sometimes recommended to limit infant antidepressant exposure.
      Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol Committee
      ABM clinical protocol #18: use of antidepressants in nursing mothers.
      However, there is little evidence of benefit with either approach,
      Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol Committee
      ABM clinical protocol #18: use of antidepressants in nursing mothers.
      and lag times to peak drug concentration in breast milk vary by individual.
      • Sie S.D.
      • Wennink J.M.
      • van Driel J.J.
      • et al.
      Maternal use of SSRIs, SNRIs and NaSSAs: practical recommendations during pregnancy and lactation.

       Additional Considerations

       Other Supports

      Many women will benefit from parenting support, case management, or care coordination services to secure or maintain insurance coverage and facilitate referrals to local support groups, subsidized mental health centers, and other community-based resources. Patients and clinicians are encouraged to consult with their local social service agencies to identify additional resources, including public health nurses, that are available in some counties in the United States for following new mothers or mothers previously identified as being at a higher risk for problems with their newborns.

       Other Interventions

      Other nonpharmacological treatment approaches with preliminary supporting evidence include aerobic exercise, light therapy, and infant massage.
      • Craig M.
      • Howard L.
      Postnatal depression.
      These can be used as an adjunct to psychotherapy or pharmacotherapy, but their effectiveness as stand-alone treatments for PPD has not yet been established. Electroconvulsive therapy may be required in particularly severe cases, in consultation with a psychiatrist. Preliminary support for repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation for treating PPD awaits replication in randomized trials.
      • Garcia K.S.
      • Flynn P.
      • Pierce K.J.
      • Caudle M.
      Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation treats postpartum depression.

       Symptom Worsening

      The published literature provides little guidance for addressing worsening of PPD during active treatment. If depressive symptoms worsen, reevaluating the diagnosis and patient adherence to treatment, assessing for comorbid psychiatric or substance use disorders that may have been previously missed, identification of new or previously unaddressed life stressors, and optimization of psychosocial treatment and other supports (discussed above) are recommended. Worsening depression in women who receive psychotherapy alone should prompt discussion about potential benefits and risks of supplemental antidepressant pharmacotherapy.

       Referral

      Psychiatric referral should also be considered for patients with severe depression, depression that is not responding adequately to initial treatment, comorbid obsessions, or other comorbid psychiatric illnesses. Patients who express suicidal ideation or homicidal ideation, auditory hallucinations or delusional thoughts, or bizarre behavior indicative of psychosis require emergency mental health evaluation and very careful follow-up.
      • Sit D.K.
      • Wisner K.L.
      Identification of postpartum depression.
      Some will require hospitalization for intensive mental health care.
      • Sit D.
      • Rothschild A.J.
      • Wisner K.L.
      A review of postpartum psychosis.
      Obtaining periodic psychiatric consultation or use of telehealth capabilities, if available, may be useful if regular follow-up visits with a psychiatrist are infeasible.

       Patients Presenting on Maintenance Antidepressant Treatment

      For patients who are receiving maintenance pharmacotherapy due to a history of severe, recurrent, or difficult-to-treat depression, continuation of such treatment into the postpartum period may be the safest approach. This may be particularly so for patients with a history of relapse after antidepressant discontinuation.

       Prevention

      For women with a history of PPD or nonpuerperal major depression who are at high risk for subsequent PPD episodes, the optimal preventive approach has not been established. Interpersonal therapy and postpartum home visits can prevent PPD onset based on results of a recent meta-analysis.
      • Dennis C.L.
      • Dowswell T.
      Psychosocial and psychological interventions for preventing postpartum depression.
      However, interventions of this scope, particularly home visits, are difficult to implement in everyday practice. There are still few randomized trials of antidepressants for preventing recurrence of PPD in high-risk patients.

      Conclusion

      Postpartum depression is a common, potentially disabling, and, in some cases, life-threatening condition. Fortunately, PPD is also readily detectable in routine practice and is amenable to treatment by a wide variety of modalities that are effective for treating nonpuerperal major depression. Postpartum depression screening improves case identification and can lead to better clinical outcomes, although many barriers to receiving adequate PPD treatment must often be overcome. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and IPT are preferred psychotherapies for women with mild to moderate PPD, whereas antidepressants are appropriate for more severe cases. In addition to symptom severity, treatment decisions will be driven by patient preference, past response to treatment, availability of local mental health care resources, and patient decisions about breast-feeding.

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