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Test detects postpartum depression pre-birth

January 24, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Many new mothers experience depression after giving birth, and a new blood test detects the risks before giving birth.It's the most common complication of pregnancy. Between 10 and 20 percent of new moms struggle with the condition that causes extreme anxiety, sleepless nights and disturbing thoughts.

Doctors are trying to stop the symptoms before the baby is even born.

After her daughter Alexis was born, just heating up leftovers was too much for Gina Adkins to handle.

"I couldn't function. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. I lost a tremendous amount of weight," Gina said.

A new blood test could have warned Gina of her risk during pregnancy. Researchers found women with elevated levels of the hormone PCRH at 25 weeks had a higher risk of postpartum depression.

"It's almost like an amnio. Women want to find out if their child has down syndrome or if they're having a boy or a girl. This is just as important," Gina said.

Doctors can then intervene earlier and prescribe meds during pregnancy.

This new mom handles the stage with ease, but her postpartum depression became overwhelming.

"I had to make a rational decision whether or not to go home to these two or drive my car off the road," said Lauren Machos, a mother and a former beauty queen.

Machos was admitted to the only inpatient program in the country for postpartum depression at the University of North Carolina Health Care Chapel Hill.

"I think the biggest benefit is just educating them, so normalizing the illness, saying, 'No you're not the only one you're not going crazy. You're not going to be here for months and months,'" explained Dr. Elizabeth Bullard, a psychiatrist at UNC.

Moms stay an average of seven to 10 days in the locked-door facility. They receive intensive counseling, have regular visits with their families and are forced to catch up on sleep.

"My eight days there really helped the situation I was going through, and I think made the recovery to this point much easier than if I was to go it alone," said Machos.

The biggest problem is knowing the difference between baby blues and depression. Up to 80 percent of new moms experience baby blues, consisting of feeling emotional or anxious for a couple of days. Depression impacts up to 20 percent of moms. They struggle to sleep and take care of themselves and the baby. When it lasts longer than two weeks, get help.