Perinatal depression refers to a depressive mood disorder that occurs during pregnancy or within 1 year following pregnancy.
Symptoms of perinatal depression are similar to those of major depressive disorder or depression. It can cause you to lose enjoyment in things you once found pleasurable, develop strained relationships with others, or make you feel isolated or alone.
Many people who are pregnant or recently gave birth develop depression. It’s not the person’s fault, though it can trigger feelings of guilt or embarrassment.
Treatment can help a person recover.
Perinatal depression is an encompassing term that refers to either prenatal or postpartum depression.
The prefix “peri” means “around,” and “natal” refers to birth. If depressive symptoms start before giving birth, a doctor typically refers to it as prenatal depression. When the symptoms start shortly after birth, doctors refer to it as postpartum depression.
Signs and symptoms associated with perinatal depression can vary between people. What you feel and experience may be different from what another pregnant person experiences.
You may experience only a few symptoms or most of the common symptoms, regardless of when the depression starts.
Symptoms and signs of perinatal depression can affect your thoughts, mood, and physical well-being.
Perinatal depression is not the same as what’s known as the “baby blues.” The baby blues describes feelings of fatigue, being overwhelmed, and other emotional changes that may be similar to depressive symptoms.
Typically, the baby blues cause mild symptoms and will go away within about
You may find that living with perinatal depression causes changes in how you think and your ability to remember important dates or facts. This is typical.
Perinatal depression may cause you or a loved one to:
- experience persistent thoughts or doubts about the ability to care for the baby
- trouble remembering important things
- difficulty concentrating
- issues with making decisions
Changes to your overall mood may also occur. Some common mood changes associated with perinatal depression can include:
- feeling irritable
- loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
- persistent anxious, sad, or “empty” mood
- difficulty bonding with the new baby
- feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, or guilt
Perinatal depression can affect your physical health in several ways. Some common symptoms can include:
- abnormal weight changes, appetite, or a combination of both
- fatigue or abnormal decrease in energy
- body aches, cramps, issues with digestion, or headaches with no clear cause and unresponsive to treatment
- restless or difficulty sitting still
- trouble sleeping, getting up early in the morning, or oversleeping
Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
You may also experience thoughts about suicide, death, or harming yourself or your baby. If you experience these thoughts and feelings, it’s important to reach out for help.
You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifelineat 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The free service offers 24-hour support, 7 days a week.
Alternatively, you could text HELLO to 741741, the Crisis Text Line. The service responds 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Perinatal depression can affect any person during or following pregnancy. It occurs across all ethnicities, cultures, education levels, incomes, and ages.
Nothing that you do or do not do affects whether you will develop perinatal depression. There’s no singular cause of perinatal depression.
But, some factors may increase your risk of developing perinatal depression. According to a
- history of depression
- poor social support
- poor relationship quality
- stressful life events
- current or previous abuse
- unplanned and unwanted pregnancies
- low socioeconomic status
The researchers found in their own study that racial and ethnic differences may also increase or decrease the likelihood of developing perinatal depression. They note that access to care and screenings in less affluent areas may cause both underreporting and undertreatment.
Treatment for perinatal depression can involve several aspects including medications, talk therapy, and support from friends, families, or groups.
Antidepressant medications may help some people feel better. Before starting or using antidepressants when pregnant or nursing, you should discuss their use with a doctor. They can help explain the benefits and risks associated with their use.
It’s also important to remember that antidepressants take time to work. It can take 6 to 8 weeks before you feel their effect.
You may also need to try different medications to find the one that works best for you. When trying medications, make sure to work with a doctor.
For perinatal depression that occurs after giving birth (postpartum), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of brexanolone. This medication works to restore hormones that drop in level following giving birth to help alleviate depression associated with their rapid decline.
But according to a
Talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, involves meeting with a therapist, mental health worker, or other mental health professional.
Several types of talk therapy may help, including cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT).
CBT helps to retrain or teach you to think and react differently to the things happening around you. It helps to replace unhelpful thoughts and behaviors with positive thoughts and responses to what’s going on around you.
IPT proposes that life events and interactions with others impact your mood, and your mood impacts your interactions and life events. The goal of IPT is to teach you how to:
- develop communication skills that you can use to improve relationships
- build support networks with friends and family
- develop realistic expectations for yourself and others
- other skills as needed
Finding support can play an important role in treating perinatal depression. It’s common for a person who is pregnant or recently gave birth to feel alone and isolated.
Support groups or a positive support network of friends or family may help.
You may also find it helpful to seek other forms of support. Postpartum Support International provides a free number to call to get help: 1-800-944-4773. You could also text HELP to 800-944-4773 (English) or 971-203-7773 (Spanish).
Finding help for perinatal depression is important. You’re not alone or at fault if you feel depressed, anxious, hopeless, or other negative feelings.
Help and support can come in many forms, including friends and family, therapy sessions, medication, and other support groups.
Some online support groups that may help include:
- Smart Patient – Works in partnership with Postpartum Support International
- Postpartum Support International – Offers an online support group for those interested
- What to Expect – Offers an online discussion forum to discuss questions and issues with others
A local healthcare professional, such as a primary care physician, obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN), or your child’s pediatrician may have information on local services that may help. It may be worth asking what services they may recommend.