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Pregnancy and Depression: Myths and Facts

     

Having a baby is supposed to be a joyous time, and for most it is, but for some women who experience depression during or after pregnancy it a distressing and difficult time. An estimated one in seven women develops depression (postpartum depression) within the first few weeks of having a baby.

Myths about pregnancy and depression

Unfortunately, many myths about depression and pregnancy persist: that it only affects certain women, that it’s a weakness women can overcome, and that it only occurs in the postpartum period (after delivery). Many women are susceptible, and women who develop depression are not weak and cannot control this biological illness. We now know that many women experience depression not only after delivering, but also during pregnancy.

Not too long ago, doctors believed that pregnancy protected against mood disorders, but today there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. Approximately one in 13 women will experience a new episode of depression in pregnancy 1. Women with a family or personal history of depression or anxiety are at greater risk. Unanticipated or poor pregnancy outcomes and lack of social support also increase the risk of depression. For these reasons, many practitioners now screen women for depression both during and after pregnancy. More on depression and anxiety.

Treatment and support

Regardless of when symptoms start, it is important for women to get treatment. Several options for treatment are available, including psychotherapy (talk therapy), medication and light therapy. Increased self-care, lifestyle changes, support of family and friends, and connecting with others with similar experiences can help too. It’s important to keep in mind that untreated depression may contribute to problems for the developing baby such as pre-term birth, poor bonding with the mother, and even low birth weight.

Women deciding on medication or other treatment during pregnancy or immediately after should discuss and carefully consider with their doctor the potential risks and the benefits of different treatments.

Signs of depression

Here are some signs of depression in pregnancy or postpartum.2, 3 If you or someone you know is experiencing several of these symptoms, consider talking with your doctor or a mental health professional. Help is available.

  • Getting too much or not enough sleep
  • No longer being interested in fun activities
  • Feeling extreme guilt
  • Having no energy
  • Unable to focus or concentrate
  • Poor appetite or overeating
  • Feeling suicidal or having thoughts of harming the baby
  • Isolating from others
  • Losing interest in the baby, e.g., not wanting to go to the baby shower or get the nursery ready
  • Not talking or playing with the baby
  • Having trouble caring for or connecting with the baby
  • Extreme tearfulness
  • Feeling overly anxious, e.g., not sleeping for fear that something will happen to baby

Additionally, many women experience symptoms of anxiety during pregnancy or immediately after delivering. These may be in addition to symptoms of depression or independent of them. While some anxious feelings are common and understandable with a new baby, a woman experiencing overwhelming, distressful, and ongoing feelings of anxiety may benefit from seeking professional care.

Ask for Help

If you or someone you care about is experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, please let someone know. Contact your family doctor, your obstetrician, or a psychiatrist or other mental health clinician. If at any time, you fear that you or someone else may hurt themselves or their child, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

Additional Information

References

About the Author

By Lisette Rodriguez-Cabezas, M.D.
APA Diversity Leadership Fellow
Fourth Year Resident, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Ill.

     

AnxietyDepressionPatients and FamiliesPostpartum depression

 

Comments (3) Add a Comment

  • Dyane Harwood

    As a perinatal mental health advocate, I encourage women and health professionals to educate themselves about all the perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADS). Apart from postpartum depression there are seven other PMADS listed on the Postpartum Progress FAQ page. I was diagnosed with the PMAD of bipolar, peripartum onset (postpartum bipolar), a.k.a. childbirth-triggered bipolar. For information I suggest checking out Postpartum Support International's excellent section on bipolar. Postpartum psychosis can be accompanied by bipolar, peripartum onset, but not always. At age thirty-seven I had my second baby. I walked into the maternity ward in labor with no previous diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Within 24 hours of my daughter's birth I was hypomanic and hypergraphic (compulsive writing); no one recognized I was in trouble until six weeks later when I was acutely manic. It was then when I voluntarily admitted myself for hospitalization and received an official diagnosis of bipolar, peripartum onset with no psychotic features. Dyane Leshin-Harwood Member, Postpartum Support International, International Society of Bipolar Disorders

  • Maureen

    The National Coalition for Maternal Mental Health made a video, What PPD feels like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8ZSUzJ0KqU

  • Christy

    :( I did not experience this with our first born. Now we;re trying for baby # 2, back to talking pregnancytips pills, I pray everything to be fine.. :(

 

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