CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - More than 500,000 women will be diagnosed with postpartum depression or anxiety (also known as postpartum mood disorder or PPMD) every year in America. Because the diagnosis often fills women with shame, they don’t talk about it – or seek treatment. A new program at Novant Health is trying to change that.
It’s aimed at stemming the tide of women being diagnosed by screening them while they’re pregnant. “It’s a screening,” said Dr. Mark Bland, an OB-GYN with Novant Health, who’s been delivering babies for nearly 20 years.
“It allows us to cast a wide net and capture some we may miss because some may answer positive to some questions and others might answer positive to another one of those questions. So it’s casting a wide net and not letting people kind of fall through. And letting them also know there’s resources out there for them.”
When you consider how long the postpartum period is -- the first year of a child’s life – he says it’s imperative to get women suffering from PPMD help as soon as possible. By screening women while they are pregnant, they hope to identify those more at risk and get them treated much earlier.
Obstetricians are seen as the first line of defense because pregnant women see them so frequently. It’s just one reason why Dr. Bland says this protocol is a necessary change. “That awareness both going that to the patients but also giving that to, heck, a hospital system like ours, that awareness is important because these first line doctors like us – ‘OK, what about the deeper patient that has deeper psychiatric issues that we need someone to come alongside us’,” he pointed out.
Novant is also changing the way its doctors approach the fourth trimester, also known as the postpartum period. Historically, the first follow-up for a woman after having a baby is six weeks afterward.
But, Dr. Bland says part of this new protocol is breaking away from that, especially since he says there's no medical reason for that six week timeframe. “Now we're saying, ‘OK some patients need to get seen at one week, two weeks - that's six weeks is completely cultural,” he pointed out.
“There is nothing physical nothing emotional - there is nothing medical about that 6 weeks. It’s totally cultural. You know, most moms are a little teary, 50 percent of them are for the first week or so. But if that’s lasting longer than a week and half, there may be something going on so we gotta figure that out. If we’ve been waiting six weeks, what happens to that [mom]?”
He says it’s about following up much sooner, particularly because when family and friends come to see the new baby, they aren’t typically asking about the mother. “They're coming to see the baby,” said Dr. Bland. ”They're not coming to see the mom for visits. [It’s] ‘how much baby weigh?’ Six weeks is a long time to be the first person to ask, ‘how are you doing? How are you adjusting?’ That's why shortening time up and follow up with this awareness – ‘hey, we're interested in you’ because that's who's taking care of this baby.”
Dr. Bland says they also want women to know that working through postpartum mood disorder is a process. That it takes time -- and doing the work to come through to the other side, something important for moms -- and really – society as a whole to understand that.
“The challenge and the big challenge for us on the psych front, OB front - is in the patient front, it takes work,” he said. “It takes time. This is not a sinus infection and antibiotics is gonna clear it up. It takes work. It may take medicine, it may take counseling. It may take weeks. And our society doesn’t like weeks, you know but [mothers] gotta, kind of, work through it.”