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BETHESDA, Md. — While childbirth is a magical experience for many new moms, some women have to deal a condition called the “baby blues” after the deliver. Postpartum depression is a very real issue for many new mothers and a study finds it may actually last much longer than health experts previously thought. Researchers from the National Institutes of Health say women may continue to have high levels of depression lasting years after their child is born.

The study of 5,000 women reveals one in four experienced severe depression symptoms at some point during a three-year period following their delivery. The rest of the women examined reported low levels of depression throughout those same three years.

Mothers with postpartum depression commonly experience mood swings, crying spells, anxiety, and even thoughts of suicide. This serious case of baby blues typically starts within the first week after the woman gives birth. Until now, most cases were thought to last for only a few weeks.

‘Six months may not be long enough to gauge symptoms’ of postpartum depression

The American Academy of Pediatrics urges pediatricians to screen new mothers for postpartum depression during their first, second, fourth, and sixth month after childbirth. The team from NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) recommends these tests be extended.

“Our study indicates that six months may not be long enough to gauge depressive symptoms,” says primary author Diane Putnick in a media release. “These long-term data are key to improving our understanding of mom’s mental health, which we know is critical to her child’s well-being and development.”

Study authors used data from the Upstate KIDS study to make its conclusions. The report included mothers and babies born between 2008 and 2010 in dozens of counties around New York State. Researchers analyzed each woman’s mental state over three years following the birth of their child. Each mother took screening questionnaires to gauge their risk for postpartum depression.

One thing the study did not do was clinically diagnose depression in any of the participants. Researchers find mothers with underlying health problems, such as mood disorders or diabetes, did have a higher likelihood of depressive symptoms.

The study appears in the journal Pediatrics.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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