Anxiety During Pregnancy Causes Increased Postpartum Depression, Researchers Find

Researchers at veterans hospitals across the country have found that maternal anxiety, depression, and PTSD have negative consequences for pregnant women and their children.

Researchers studying Veterans Affairs healthcare across the country have found that pregnancy-related anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder can lead to problems for pregnant veterans and their children , including greater difficulties with the bond between children and parents and increased parental stress.

In response, healthcare providers across the country, including at the Iowa City Veterans Media Center in Iowa City, are working with their pregnant populations to reduce these problems.

Maternal anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder have negative consequences for pregnant women and their children, according to a study by researchers at Veterans Affairs hospitals across the country. The study found that postpartum depression was significantly associated with more bonding difficulties and parenting stress.

Janelle Beswick, outreach and marketing coordinator for the Iowa City Veterans Health Care System, said the hospital does not have obstetric services, but is working to cover medical care from its pregnant population.

“We do recordings for care, including postpartum stress if they need it,” Beswick said. “We also cover all agent visits, genetic testing and anything the mother might need like bags of milk. “

During each trimester, Laura Johns, Maternity Care Coordinator for the Iowa City Veterans Health Care System, calls to check on pregnant patients. She also said she screened patients for mental health, intimate partner violence, and tobacco and alcohol abuse.

“I offer basic screening, making sure to refer women to mental health providers if they have a problem,” Johns said. “If they test positive for depression or other mental health issues, I can refer them to someone within the VA or in the community to provide mental health counseling.”

Many veterans use this service, Johns said. Last fiscal year, 34 people received maternal care from the VA. Of those screened, 15 women suffered from PTSD and 24 had a mental health diagnosis.

Jess Beswick-Honn, assistant chief engineer for Iowa City Veterans Affairs and a pregnant patient at the hospital, received pre-pregnancy care. She has worked with the VA since returning from a tour of Iraq in 2006 and has undergone fertility treatment with the VA and the University of Iowa.

“Laura works with me to talk about how I feel during pregnancy,” Beswick-Honn said. “She’s helped me with all kinds of things and asks leading questions about my sanity that I never would have thought of.”

Johns said her patients may be reluctant to release mental health information on phone calls at times, but she lets them know there are always resources available to them.

“It is important to help pregnant women establish mental health care before they become pregnant, so that they can contact providers if they have a problem,” Johns said. “Even if women do not test positive for their mental health issues, it is good to help them connect with counselors and other providers. “

The VA offers programs to help struggling pregnant women and new mothers, Johns said.

A program, called Annie, sends text reminders to reach patients. The program has helped mothers overcome a variety of issues, including safe sleep for babies and postpartum depression.

Something Johns said he noticed in his work with pregnant women is that the indicators of postpartum depression may start earlier in pregnancy, rather than after the baby is born.

“Some of the symptoms of depression start before childbirth, which is why it’s important to connect mothers with mental health professionals before their babies are born,” Johns said. “There are many factors that contribute to postpartum depression, including anxiety during pregnancy and levels of social support from spouses and other family members. “

Beswick-Honn said she suffered from depression before her pregnancy. So she worked with her obstetrician to make sure she continued to take her medications.

Another program in the Iowa City center called ROSE (reach out, stay strong essentials) offers four sessions of group therapy before and after childbirth for mothers by providing education about postpartum depression, Johns said.

“The biggest thing we do is let patients know we’re here if they need help,” Johns said. “Pregnancy and motherhood can be difficult, and it’s a smaller population that we are working hard to help. “

Beswick-Honn said she took part in the program and found it rewarding to meet a group of people who understand what it’s like to experience depression and anxiety during pregnancy.

“I’m not someone who reaches out and asks for what I need, so Laura has been extremely helpful with her recordings,” said Beswick-Honn. “It’s cool to have someone like Laura fighting for maternity care and making sure pregnant women receive their benefits and support throughout pregnancy. “

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