Postpartum depression: helping our new mothers

Coming on the heels of the announcement by Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh during the Budget 2023 that there will be countrywide screening for post-partum depression, Guyana’s health minister has confirmed that health professionals will now be trained to diagnose and treat women with postpartum depression.
Worldwide, more than 3 in 10 women and babies do not currently receive postnatal care in the first days after birth – the period when most maternal and infant deaths occur, the World Health Orgainsation (WHO).
At the same time, according to WHO, the physical and emotional consequences of childbirth – from injuries to recurring pain and trauma – can be debilitating if unmanaged, but are often highly treatable when the right care is given at the right time.
Director of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health and Ageing at WHO in 2022 had said that the need for quality maternity and newborn care does not stop once a baby is born, adding that indeed, the birth of a baby is a life-changing moment – one that is bound by love, hope and excitement – but it can also cause unprecedented stress and anxiety. Parents need strong health care and support systems, especially women, whose needs are too often neglected when the baby comes.
Here in Guyana, Dr Singh in his Budget presentation said: “In 2023, we will launch several new initiatives, including one that aims at expectant mothers in the hinterland having at least one ultrasound, and is visited at least once by an obstetrician during her pregnancy. Additionally, screening for post-partum depression will be implemented countrywide.”
He also said that there have been investments over the years to will help to reduce maternal mortality, which stands at an estimated 112 per 100,000 as at the end of 2022. Reducing this incidence will be further aided by the training of 29 traditional birth attendants in Regions One (Barima-Waini) and Nine (Upper Takatu-Upper Essequibo), and the purchase of over $250 million in related equipment and expanded training of health care providers in family planning.
Adding to this Health Minister Dr Frank Anthony on Friday said that one of the areas that the ministry is working on is to “ improve the care that we give to mothers so we have focused a lot on pregnancy -first, second and third trimester- so that delivery is safe but we also recognise that after delivery some mothers develop what is called postpartum depression and we recongise this and want to create a programme to prevent depression.”
Last year October it was announced that some 200 doctors and medexes at health centres countrywide will receive specialised training to identify depression.
Studies have shown that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the overall prevalence of postpartum depression was similar to that before the pandemic. However, there was a marked increase among women who gave birth during wave four of the pandemic.
According to one study the pandemic has had a major impact on the occurrence of depressive symptoms after childbirth and can be used to formulate psychological interventions to minimize depression among these women.
In its comprehensive plan to assist countries deal with this phenomenon, WHO came up with over 60 recommendations that help shape a positive postnatal experience for women, babies and families.
WHO has also stated that evidence shows that women and their families want and need a positive postnatal experience that helps them navigate the immense physical and emotional challenges that occur after their babies are born, while building their confidence as parents.
Medical Officer with WHO’s Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research and the UN Special Programme, HRP, Dr Mercedes Bonet has said that dedicated postnatal services should provide vital physical and mental health support, while helping caregivers thrive in providing the right care for their newborns.
It is hoped that Guyana’s undertaking for countrywide screening for post-partum depression achieves its objective as this topic within families are one of the ‘taboo’ issue.