Universal Postpartum Mental Health Screening for Parents of Newborns With Prenatally Diagnosed Birth Defects

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To describe the implementation of a nurse-led project to screen parents for depression and traumatic stress in the postpartum period after visiting their newborns in the NICU.


A standardized universal mental health postpartum screening and referral protocol was developed for parents of high-risk neonates.

Setting/Local Problem:

The project occurred at the Garbose Family Special Delivery Unit, the world's first obstetrics unit housed within a pediatric hospital serving healthy women who give birth to newborns with prenatally diagnosed fetal anomalies. Parents of neonates admitted to the NICU are at greater risk to develop postpartum psychological distress; therefore, early identification is critical.


A total of 1,327 participants were screened, including 725 women who gave birth to live newborns at the Garbose Family Special Delivery Unit and 602 fathers.


Obstetric nurses asked parents to complete a screening tool that assessed their psychological risk in the postpartum period. A system for mental health triage and referral was available for parents with elevated scores.


Overall monthly screening procedure compliance rates were high (96.5% mothers and 79.6% fathers). Women (5.5%, n = 40) and men (5.5%, n = 33) showed high risk for traumatic stress, and 35.9% (n = 260) of women and 9.5% (n = 57) of men showed elevated risk for major depression in the imediate postpartum period.


Incorporating the screening process into routine nursing practice with immediate mental health triage and referral made the program feasible. The risk factors identified add to the growing knowledge about parents of newborns in the NICU.

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