Perinatal Depression: When Depression Happens During Pregnancy
Pregnancy isn't always a joyful journey. Besides the usual aches and pains, you may develop conditions – physical or emotional – that can affect your health and your baby's health.
You may have heard of postpartum depression, which is depression that occurs after childbirth. But depression can also occur during pregnancy.
This condition, called perinatal depression, or prenatal depression, affects up to one in seven women. Doctors are now starting to screen pregnant patients for perinatal depression.
What Is Perinatal Depression?
Perinatal depression is one of many pregnancy conditions. And just as you would seek treatment for conditions such as gestational diabetes, it's also important to talk to your doctor about available treatments for depression. The right care can help you have a smoother pregnancy and give your baby the best start in life.
How Does Depression During Pregnancy Affects My Baby?
Depression during pregnancy affects your emotional and physical health – and has both short- and long-term effects on your baby. One study found that children of women who were depressed during pregnancy were more likely to become depressed or develop mood disorders themselves.
Researchers attribute this higher risk to a difference in brain development. Babies with depressed moms had less connectivity in the part of the brain that controls responses to stress and emotions.
Other studies found that children of women with perinatal depression are more likely to be born prematurely, have a lower birth weight and develop behavior problems. So getting treatment is not just important for your well-being – it's necessary for the baby's as well.
Am I At Risk Of Perinatal Depression?
The exact cause of depression during pregnancy is unknown. But certain risk factors make you more likely to experience it:
- Personal or family history of depression
- History of physical or sexual abuse
- Unplanned pregnancy
- Diabetes before or during pregnancy
- Pregnancy complications
- Lack of social or financial support
- Young age
If you have any of these risk factors, talk to your doctor early in your pregnancy. Your doctor may recommend services like counseling that help prevent perinatal depression.
What Are The Symptoms Of Perinatal Depression?
It's difficult to predict if or when perinatal depression will occur. But there are signs to watch for, so make an appointment with your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms, which may indicate perinatal depression:
- Feelings of sadness, worthlessness or hopelessness
- Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- Difficulty concentrating
- Severe mood swings
- Loss of energy, motivation or drive
- Withdrawal from friends, family and activities
- Thoughts of suicide
How Can I Get Help For Depression During Pregnancy?
Perinatal depression isn't something you have to handle on your own. And though women may think they just need to deal with it until the pregnancy is over, the depression may not go away after birth. So getting help is essential for your health, both now and in the future.
"Depression can happen to anyone and it is NOT a sign of weakness should it develop," said Renee Knutson, MD, an OBGYN with Franciscan Physician Network Obstetrics & Gynecology Lafayette. "I believe a lot patients think, 'Tomorrow will be better. I can get through this on my own' and are afraid to seek out or ask for help."
If you're concerned about depression, talk with your OBGYN. Your doctor will discuss your symptoms and family history, talk to you about how you're feeling and determine the appropriate treatment.
"We encourage any patient and certainly their family members or friends to please have their loved one call an OBGYN office with any concerns because we can provide help and relief for those patients," Dr. Knutson said. "It is critical we are all watchful for this for the health of the mother and entire family."
Treatments often include two types of behavioral health services:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches you how to turn around negative thoughts and manage difficult emotions.
- Interpersonal therapy helps you improve communication skills to promote healthier relationships.
If you experience severe perinatal depression, your doctor may also recommend prescription medication. To get help for depression during your pregnancy, find an OBGYN or behavioral health specialist today. You and your baby deserve care and treatment so you can feel your best.