Understanding Pre and Post-Partum Depression

Pregnancy and Mental Health

Mood swings are part of the experience of being pregnant for many women. Changing hormone levels can mean you feel happy one minute, but sad the next. Once the baby is born, it's also not uncommon to experience what is commonly known as the ‘baby blues’. Despite the love you have for your baby, you might feel sad or disconnected from them. This is often temporary, resolving in about two weeks or less.

While many women experience mood swings or the baby blues, a smaller percentage develop more serious mood disorders during or just after pregnancy. Around 10% of women develop postpartum depression in the weeks after giving birth1.

If you're not feeling like yourself during or after pregnancy, and those feelings persist for more than two weeks2, help is available.

What Is Perinatal Depression?

Perinatal depression refers to depression that develops either during or right after pregnancy. When depression occurs during pregnancy, it's called prenatal depression. When it develops after the baby's born, it's postpartum depression.

The most important thing to understand about perinatal depression is that it's more severe that the baby blues or feeling stressed out about having a newborn. Without treatment and help, the baby and mom can be at risk.

There isn't a single cause of perinatal depression and it can happen to any new mother. If you have a history of depression or mental illness before getting pregnant or a family history of depression, you might have a slightly higher chance of developing perinatal depression.

One possible contributing factor to postpartum depression is the sudden drop in the hormones estrogen and progesterone that occurs after birth. Changes in thyroid hormone levels might also trigger depression. A lack of support, high levels of stress, and lack of sleep can also contribute to depression after childbirth.

Signs of Prenatal and Postpartum Depression

The signs and symptoms of perinatal depression can vary from woman to woman, but they need to persist for at least two weeks to be considered depression2. Common signs of perinatal depression are:

● Mood changes: You might feel sad, anxious, or empty.

● Feelings of guilt: You might feel helpless when it comes to caring for your baby or that you're unworthy of having a child.

● Loss of interest: You might no longer be interested in activities you previously enjoyed.

● Change in energy level: You might feel tired all the time or like you don't have the energy to do things.

● Trouble focusing: You might have difficulty paying attention, remembering details, or making decisions.

● Weight changes: You might lose or gain weight. Some women have a change in appetite, too.

● Disconnection from your baby: You might not feel emotionally attached to your infant or might have trouble bonding with them.

● Worry about your mothering skills: You might doubt your ability to provide adequate care for your baby.

● Unexplained aches and pains: Some women develop headaches or body aches that don't have an identifiable cause.

How to Get Help for Pregnancy-Related Depression

If you experience any of the symptoms listed above for two weeks or more within one year of giving birth, contact a healthcare provider, as help is available.

Treatment for perinatal depression can take several forms. Some moms see a benefit from interpersonal therapy or cognitive-based therapy. Antidepressants are another common treatment option for perinatal depression.

While there are some types of antidepressants that shouldn't be taken during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, there are also many that are safe for the fetus or for nursing babies. If medication can benefit you, your provider will recommend a type and a dose that is safe for you and your baby.

In addition to medical treatment, it can be helpful to build up a support system at home. Your partner can provide emotional support and can take on some of the responsibilities of caring for your baby while you recover. Similarly, your friends and family can also step in to support you.

Getting the right treatment for perinatal depression is critical for your own health and the health of your baby.

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1. Postpartum Depression, Office on Women's Health, https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/mental-health-conditions/postpartum-depression

2. Perinatal Depression, National Institute of Mental Health, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/perinatal-depression

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