What Happens During A Postpartum Depression Screening?

Reviewed by Laura Angers, LPC

Published 06/22/2022

Giving birth to a new baby is an emotional experience. Many new mothers feel excited and happy, as well as overwhelmed and frustrated. Your body goes through many changes during this time that may affect your mood and how you care for yourself. Postpartum depression happens when a new mother feels sad or emotionless for two weeks or more after giving birth. Treatment options include therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes, part of self-care strategies. While help is available for new moms and their babies, it is important to understand what happens when a new mom or loved one suspects this condition.

Baby in Pink and White Blanket

Postpartum Depression Defined

What is postpartum depression? It is common for women to feel sad or blue after having a baby, known as “baby blues.” A mom may have “baby blues” for a few days after giving birth by feeling sad or empty. These feelings are short-lived, but postpartum depression sees such thoughts and feelings lasting at least two weeks. A new mother may feel hopeless, which is not considered standard in giving birth or becoming a mother.

It is a form of depression that affects your mental and physical health. Such depression makes it challenging to focus on daily tasks, and the feeling of being depressed doesn’t go away. In this case, a new mother may feel disconnected from their baby, may not want to care for their baby, or even feel like they don’t love their baby. Sometimes these feelings can be mild or severe, which play a role in diagnosis and determining treatment. A mother may experience feelings of anxiety along with depression symptoms.

Sometimes one may have concerns about being depressed after giving birth and seeking something such as a do I have a postpartum depression quiz available through different online sources. When symptoms become problematic affecting daily living responsibilities, you should talk to your doctor, who may recommend completing a postpartum depression screening.

What Happens During The Screening?

When someone is suspected of having depression after childbirth, they are screened for postpartum depression. It is caused by hormone changes experienced after birth. Sometimes other factors are considered, and the screening process helps understand other potential causes. Some may refer to the screening as a postpartum depression test or a postpartum depression quiz. It is an assessment with different names, such as postpartum depression assessment or EPDS test, which uses a postpartum depression screening scale.

The assessment helps understand what a mother is experiencing mentally and physically after giving birth. It is offered at different times, depending on when the mother experiences onset of symptoms. In some cases, a new mother may feel depressed for days or weeks after giving birth. Some studies have shown mothers being assessed for the condition within a week of giving birth to gain more insight into potential causes and risk factors.

Woman in Gray Tank Top Showing Distress

Screening for postpartum depression using the screening tool helps determine if a new mother has the condition. The screening tool is used by different healthcare providers, such as primary doctors and obstetricians/gynecologists. In some cases, a midwife may also use the tool.

The screening uses a postpartum depression questionnaire known as EPDS or Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. It includes a list of ten questions that assess your mental health, including anxiety levels and mood. In some cases, a blood test is completed to review thyroid levels and rule out other health concerns that could contribute to your depression.  The screening process includes no risks, and no special preparations are needed before completing it. At the most, some may experience soreness or bruising from the needle insertion for the blood test, but those symptoms quickly disappear.

The tool looks for signs of depression roughly two weeks after childbirth. If the tool leads to a positive diagnosis, you’ll be referred to a mental health specialist. Such specialists are trained and experienced in providing treatment for new mothers with depression. Some mothers receive a screening during their pregnancy or after giving birth if they have a history of mental health concerns like depression.

Purpose Of Screening And Results

The purpose is to learn more about the mother and her history before her pregnancy. The screening also helps understand how the new mom is adjusting to her life-changing experience of giving birth. Once information is collected through screening, a determination is made. Upon diagnosis, a treatment plan is developed. Patients are encouraged to get treatment as soon as possible to avoid worsening of symptoms. Patients are presented with treatment options based on the screening comprised of multiple options, including medication, therapy, and self-care methods.

During this time, the mother needs support from family and friends. She may need someone to assist with caring for the baby. Mom may need to take time out for herself by engaging in enjoyable, relaxing activities. It may be suggested to engage in regular exercise and enjoy the fresh air by getting outside more often when the weather allows for it.

Cheerful women cooking together in kitchen

It is essential, to be honest about your feelings and what you’re experiencing during the screening process. While questions are asked to understand your situation, they also help you learn about potential causes or risk factors. While rare, some are at risk for postpartum psychosis, a severe form of postpartum depression. It may involve violent behavior, thoughts of self-harm, and hallucinations. Specialized treatment is needed for this diagnosis.

Risk Factors

Any woman who becomes a new mom is at risk of developing postpartum depression, regardless of their ethnic background or age. Some situations could put a new mother at an increased risk, such as the following:

  • Family history of mental health problems such as depression or mood disorders
  • Giving birth prematurely to a baby with health concerns
  • Lack of emotional support, feeling isolated
  • Stress due to recent loss (death of a loved one or divorce)
  • Substance abuse
  • Poor dieting
  • History of serious health problems
  • Lack of sleep, prolonged exhaustion
  • Being a victim of abuse
  • A difficult pregnancy or unwanted pregnancy
  • Giving birth to multiples

A new mother may lack social support from loved ones or be a teen mother. If you notice symptoms of postpartum depression and experience any situation previously mentioned, contact your doctor. People suffering from postpartum depression could be at an increased risk of self-harm or substance abuse with possible detrimental consequences to mother and baby.

Treatment Options

Recovery time varies because it depends on your symptoms, level of severity, and how the treatment is directed to meet personal needs. For example, if you have thyroid issues or an underlying medical condition, your treatment may include working with a specialist to address the concern. If you have what is known as the baby blues, you’ll be recommended to do the following:

  • Get plenty of rest when possible.
  • Let friends and family help out.
  • Make new connections with other new moms through support groups and forums.
  • Make time for self-care.
  • Avoid alcohol and drug consumption to minimize effects on mood swings.

Moms with the baby blues see improvement of their symptoms within a few days or up to two weeks.

Women enjoying some morning coffee

Moms diagnosed with postpartum depression may have a detailed treatment plan that includes therapy and medication. Talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, includes working with a mental health specialist such as a psychiatrist. You’ll learn how to cope with your thoughts along with how to problem-solve, set goals, and establish better approaches to situations. Relationship therapy or family therapy is also helpful.

Your doctor may recommend antidepressants to improve your mood by regulating hormones. If you’re breastfeeding, you can take medication safely with little or no risk of side effects. It is essential to talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have, including benefits and risk factors to consider with specific options.

Many depressed moms see improvement with the symptoms over time with the right treatment plan. In some cases, it can become chronic for an extended time. Even if you feel better during your treatment, you may recommend continuing with your plan to avoid a relapse.

Additional Tips

Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the screening or treatment. Before your screening, please make a list of symptoms you’ve had and how long they’ve been a problem. Note any medical issues you have, including mental and physical health problems. Mention any medications you already take, including over-the-counter, prescription, and prenatal vitamins. Write down questions you want to ask when you see your doctor. Be prepared to answer questions about your lifestyle and your baby.

Besides getting support from family and friends, support is available through online support groups and forums for mothers with postpartum depression. It is crucial to connect with others who can relate to help you cope. You can get tips on possible groups through a therapist or counselor, including local support groups. Make an effort to change your lifestyle by making healthy choices, including changes to your daily routine. Set realistic goals and expectations.

Avoid pushing yourself too hard and allow yourself time to get things done. Set aside time for yourself by getting a sitter and engaging in a hobby. Set time aside to meet with friends or alone time with your partner. Avoid feeling isolated by talking to people you trust when you need to get something off your chest. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, including parenting advice. Take the help of others when they offer and use that as a time out for yourself.