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HealthPartners Institute receives $3.1 million from NIH to research depression treatment among people who are pregnant

Study will explore factors that lead people who are pregnant and diagnosed with new depression to pursue treatment, as well as what impact treatment has on birth outcomes and breast feeding

May 27, 2021

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Around 12 percent of people who are pregnant experience new episodes of depression yet fewer than 50 percent of them start treatment for their diagnosis, increasing the risks of pre-term birth, low birth weight and other complications.

But, a new 5-year project led by HealthPartners Institute could help improve depression treatment among people who are pregnant and better understand how treatment impacts them and their babies. It’s funded by a $3.1 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the National Institutes of Health.

“Depression during and after pregnancy is common, but often it’s not well-treated. When it’s not well treated, it can add risk to pregnancy, birth and child development,” said Kristin Palmsten, ScD, investigator at HealthPartners Institute who will lead the work. “We’ll work to better understand the factors that go into starting treatment, which will hopefully give care teams more information to counsel patients.”

Research teams will survey people who are pregnant who were newly diagnosed with depression during pregnancy. They’ll assess potential predictors of treatment, such as depression history, severity, provider type, clinical recommendations, whether they’re from rural or urban areas, and type of insurance coverage. In addition, the researchers will look at whether patients pursued other non-clinical treatments, like yoga or community support groups, when they did not start clinical treatment like talk therapy or medication.

Researchers will also use electronic health record data to determine whether treatment has any impact on preterm births, low birth weight, small for gestational age. Some data suggests that antidepressants are associated with poor birth outcomes, but these poor outcomes are also associated with depression. This study will help clarify risk factors and determine how all of these factors also impact breastfeeding practices. HealthPartners has standard screening tools for depression already in the medical record that will allow researchers to extract data, which is a unique feature made possible by its Children’s Health Initiative.

“Often there’s some hesitancy when prescribing antidepressants to people who are pregnant, so our study will provide more guidance for clinicians on that topic, too,” Palmsten said. “My hypothesis is that we’ll see better pregnancy and birth outcomes among people who receive treatment be it talk therapy or medications. And my hope is that these data will lead to better depression treatment of people who are pregnant.”

This project will involve Kaiser Permanente Hawaii, Kaiser Permanente Northern California, Kaiser Permanente Southern California, and Henry Ford Health System.

About HealthPartners Institute

HealthPartners Institute is part of HealthPartners, the largest consumer-governed, non-profit health care organization in the nation with a mission to improve health and well-being in partnership with members, patients and the community. HealthPartners Institute supports this mission through research, education and practice. The Institute annually conducts 400+ research studies and trains 700+ medical residents and fellows and 1,200+ medical and advanced practice students. Its integration with HealthPartners’ hospitals, clinics and health plan strengthens the Institute’s ability to discover and develop evidence-based solutions and translate them into practice. Based in Minneapolis, the Institute’s work impacts care, health and well-being across the region and nation as well as internationally. Visit for more information.

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