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Keywords:

  • antenatal depression;
  • depression;
  • emotional care;
  • health knowledge;
  • midwives;
  • postpartum depression

Introduction: Emotional care provided by midwives may improve health and well-being; reduce stress, trauma, and depressive symptoms; and enhance maternal outcomes in childbearing women. The provision of intrapartum and postpartum emotional care can be challenging and requires a good knowledge base for the provider to screen and assist distressed women. This study assessed Australian midwives’ levels of knowledge and learning needs regarding antenatal depression and postpartum depression.

Methods: Eight hundred and fifteen members of the Australian College of Midwives completed a postal survey, which consisted of 20 items drawn from the literature and the National Baseline Survey—Health Professional Knowledge Questionnaire.

Results: On average, respondents correctly answered 62.9% of items related to antenatal depression and 70.7% of questions about postpartum depression. Many midwives were unable to identify the risk factors (70.6%) or prevalence of antenatal depression (49.6%). Nearly all (98.3%) respondents underestimated the percentage of antenatally depressed women that attempts suicide. Significant percentages of midwives did not correctly identify the incidence (44.4%), onset period (71%), and treatment options (32%) associated with postpartum depression. About half did not understand the use of antidepressant medications (48.6%) and incorrectly reported that the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale was a suitable instrument to assess symptoms of psychotic depression (43.8%).

Discussion: There are key knowledge deficits relating to onset of, assessment of, and treatment for depressive symptoms during the antenatal and postpartum periods. There is a need for continuing professional education to improve midwives’ knowledge and competency in the assessment and care of women suffering depression.