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News Jul 9, 2009 - 5:49 PM

UConn professor Cheryl Tatano Beck receives Nursing Association’s highest honor for women’s health research

By UConn

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STORRS, CT – University of Connecticut Distinguished Professor Cheryl Tatano Beck has received the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) 2009 Distinguished Professional Service Award for her “unparalleled dedication to improving the health of women and infants” around the world.

The award is the highest honor bestowed by AWHONN, which is the country’s foremost nursing authority dedicated to advancing the health care of women and newborns through advocacy, research and the creation of high quality, evidence-based standards of care. The association represents 23,000 clinicians, educators and other advocates worldwide. Beck received the award June 28 at the association’s annual convention in San Diego, CA.

Beck was recognized for her internationally renowned research and expertise in perinatal (the period immediately before and after childbirth) mood and anxiety disorders. Beck’s special area of expertise is postpartum depression and post traumatic stress disorders as they relate to the birth experience.

"Cheryl Beck’s research and leadership in the arena of perinatal mood disorders has made an enormous impact on the emotional health and well-being of women and newborns," says AWHONN Executive Director, Karen Peddicord.

Beck’s research has provided nurses and other health care professionals around the world with important insights, screening guidelines and treatment recommendations for women suffering from postpartum depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to childbirth.

These “crippling disorders,” Beck says, “Not only have a devastating impact on mothers themselves, but also on their interactions with their infants and other children.”

Beck’s contributions to the field of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders include the widely used Postpartum Depression Screening Scale (PDSS), which she developed with Robert K. Gable, an emeritus professor in UConn’s Neag School of Education now affiliated with Johnson & Wales University. The scale is currently used in 14 countries worldwide.

“The PDSS can more effectively screen women for postpartum depression because the items on the scale are all phrases that mothers have used themselves repeatedly in my studies to describe what it is like to suffer from this devastating mood disorder,” Beck says.

“Dr. Beck's lifelong work with postpartum women has changed care nationally and internationally,” says Anne Bavier, dean of the University of Connecticut’s School of Nursing, where Beck is a researcher and faculty member. “Now, professionals from many disciplines have the scientific evidence to identify and support women who experience both postpartum depression and the postpartum stress associated with traumatic births.”

Beck continues to research the topics of postpartum depression and traumatic childbirth and its resulting PTSD. Among her current research, she is conducting a trial funded by a grant from the Donaghue Medical Research Foundation to test the effect of a diet enriched in Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) during pregnancy on postpartum depression. DHA is an Omega 3 fatty acid commonly found in some cold water fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel. It is also found in shellfish and fish oil supplements. Beck and her co-investigator, Professor Carol Lammi-Keefe, formerly of UConn and now with Louisiana State University, are investigating the role of dietary DHA in mood regulation in new mothers.

Professor Cheryl Beck received her Bachelors of Science degree in Nursing (B.S.N) from Western Connecticut State University; her Masters of Science degree in Nursing (M.S.N.) and Certified Nurse Midwife (C.N.M) certificate from Yale University, and her Doctorate of Nursing Science (D.N.Sc) from Boston University. Beck is a fellow in the American Academy of Nursing, and is on the editorial board of four major publications in her field.

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