Supporting Mothers and Children through Early Detection of Maternal Depression

Testimony to the House Public Health Committee

Maternal depression is one of the most common complications of pregnancy, affecting about one in six new mothers in Texas. With symptoms that can begin during pregnancy and up to a year after the birth of a child, a new mother may face crippling anxiety weeks after childbirth and major depressive episodes as she is trying to bond with her newborn, settle into a feeding routine, and help her baby grow and play.

Early detection of maternal depression and linking mothers to mental health care is critical for a mother’s health and a child’s health, brain development, and ability to succeed in school. Untreated, maternal depression can have devastating effects on families. Tragically, suicide is one of the top causes of maternal mortality in Texas, underscoring the need to identify issues early so mothers can access mental health care before symptoms get worse. Moreover, untreated maternal depression can harm a child’s safety, growth, and development. Parents may be less likely to use injury prevention measures, like putting their baby on her back to sleep. Infants are more likely to be diagnosed with failure to thrive. Maternal depression can interfere with early bonding and parent-child interaction, which may lead to developmental delays, cognitive delays, and increased levels of stress and anxiety for children.

In addition to the health consequences, untreated maternal depression can be devastating to the financial security of new families across Texas. If untreated, mothers suffering from depression are more likely to become unemployed and less likely to be employed full time compared to non-depressed mothers. This affects a family’s income and the strength of Texas’ workforce.

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