Cognitive Behavioral Counseling Can Prevent Postpartum Depression : Shots - Health News An influential expert panel recommends pregnant women at risk of depression get referred to counseling to prevent the illness. But for many women and their doctors, it may be easier said than done.

To Prevent Pregnancy-Related Depression, At-Risk Women Advised To Get Counseling

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Counseling during pregnancy and after childbirth can help prevent depression among women who are susceptible to it. That finding comes from new research by federal health officials. NPR's Patti Neighmond has more on the recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: It's estimated that 1 in 7 pregnant women will suffer depression while pregnant or in the year after childbirth. The consequences, says task force member psychologist Karina Davidson, can be devastating.

KARINA DAVIDSON: Babies are born with low birth weight. They're born prematurely.

NEIGHMOND: And during their first year of life, babies often don't get the positive feedback they need to thrive. In fact, the feedback from mom is often negative.

DAVIDSON: Neglect, inattention to problems or symptoms that the baby is having.

NEIGHMOND: The new guidelines suggest health care providers assess a woman's vulnerability to depression - for example, whether she suffered depression in the past, if she has a family history of the disease or if she's experiencing other stressful situations.

DAVIDSON: Teen pregnancy, being unemployed, recent exposure to intimate partner violence.

NEIGHMOND: Davidson says all these can increase the risk of depression during and after pregnancy. The task force wanted to figure out what could help prevent that. They analyzed 50 studies which looked at interventions like physical activity, education, medication and counseling. They found substantial evidence that cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy worked. Both therapies decreased the risk of depression by 39 percent. CBT focuses on changing an individual's perception and behavior. Interpersonal therapy helps women cope with changes in their relationships.

DAVIDSON: So for example, new parents often have trouble delegating who's going to get up in the middle of the night or who's going to come in after 20 minutes of a baby not settling.

NEIGHMOND: Women role-play, sort of rehearse what they'll say and how they'll communicate. Both therapies involved five to eight group sessions during pregnancy and then one to two sessions after childbirth. The task force recommends clinicians assess a patient's risk for depression and then refer them for appropriate counseling. Easier said than done, says an editorial accompanying the new guidelines. It points out that many women don't have access to mental health services, don't have adequate insurance or live in rural areas where interventions like this just aren't available.

Patti Neighmond, NPR News.

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