Prenatal depression starts while a person is still pregnant and causes many of the same symptoms of major depressive disorder.

Prenatal depression, also known as antepartum depression, is a form of depression that begins when you’re still pregnant. You may experience feelings of sadness, excessive fatigue, guilt, or a loss of interest in activities, among other things.

Symptoms may improve, stay the same, or worsen after delivery. But treatment is available to help you.

Prenatal depression is a depressive disorder that starts during pregnancy. This means you develop symptoms of depression while pregnant.

It’s a common condition. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, prenatal depression affects 1 in 10 pregnant women.

It can range in severity from mild to severe. It can also affect several areas of your life and well-being, causing changes in:

  • mood
  • behaviors
  • thoughts
  • feelings

These changes can affect how you relate and interact with others. It can also cause issues with getting through your daily routine and schedule.

Prenatal depression vs. perinatal depression

Prenatal depression refers to depression that starts during pregnancy. Perinatal depression refers to depression that either starts during pregnancy (prenatal) or post-pregnancy (postpartum).

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When you’re pregnant, it’s natural to experience some ups and downs. You may feel anxious, particularly if you’re going to be a new parent, or feel like you won’t be good enough for your baby when they’re born.

You may also feel sad or angry from time to time.

But if these feelings of sadness, anger, or other negative feelings persist for more than 2 weeks, you may have prenatal depression. Signs and symptoms of prenatal depression include:

  • lack of interest in pleasurable activities or work
  • depressed mood most of the day, almost every day
  • sleeping longer than usual or trouble sleeping (not related to pregnancy discomfort or issues)
  • feeling guilty
  • issues with focus, concentrating, thinking, or paying attention
  • feelings of hopeless or worthless
  • restlessness or slowing down to the point others notice a change
  • weight loss, loss of appetite, or eating more than normal or gaining excessive weight
  • thinking about suicide or death

Suicidal thoughts or actions or thinking about death is a serious sign of depression that you shouldn’t ignore. If you find yourself having these thoughts, you should call 988 the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

The service offers 24-hour support 365 days a year for anyone going through thoughts of suicide.

Anyone can develop prenatal depression, but certain situations and conditions make it more likely to occur. These are known as risk factors.

Some risk factors for pregnancy depression include:

  • dealing with a lot of stress
  • having an unintentional pregnancy
  • existing anxiety
  • having a history of depression, including previous prenatal depression
  • intimate partner violence
  • limited or no social support

You may also develop prenatal depression due to the demands placed on the body when pregnant and changes and fluctuations in your hormones.

It may not be possible to prevent prenatal depression from occurring, but taking the following steps may help you manage depression:

  • reach out for support if you find you’re struggling emotionally or with the demands of being pregnant
  • eat a healthful diet that includes fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains
  • get regular exercise (make sure to talk with a doctor before beginning any new routine, especially when pregnant)
  • take steps to get better sleep, such as going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, making the bedroom comfortable for sleep, and limiting screen time before bed

If you speak with a doctor about depression, they may recommend group support or psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, can help you:

  • determine what your underlying issue is
  • take steps to control symptoms
  • find new ways to handle the issues affecting you

Various types of psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), are suggested to be effective in treating prenatal depression.

In addition, a doctor may recommend you take antidepressants. These can take 3 to 4 weeks to start working and often work better when combined with psychotherapy.

You should discuss medications with your doctor to make sure they’re safe to take during pregnancy and to make changes if needed if you find they do not help or cause too many unwanted side effects.

Friends and family can also provide valuable support. You can try to reach out to trusted friends and family to help give you a boost and let you know if your symptoms may be getting worse.

You should consider getting support for depression during pregnancy if you notice changes in your mood, behavior, or thoughts.

Doctors can diagnose depression if symptoms persist for at least 2 weeks, but if you start to feel down, you may want to reach out to friends or family members sooner.

Doctors may suggest you reach out to local support groups for depression. They may also recommend support groups that meet at your local hospital or other community settings.

There’s no set time you have to wait before seeking help. If you feel depressed, looking for help sooner may help.

Prenatal depression is a common depressive disorder that occurs during pregnancy. It causes many of the same symptoms and signs as major depression and will respond to similar treatments.

You can treat prenatal depression with medications, therapies, and social support. If you feel like you may be dealing with depression, you can reach out for help right away.

If you experience any thoughts of suicide or death, call 988 to speak with a counselor who can help any time of the day, every day of the year.