Major depressive disorder with peripartum onset, also known as peripartum depression, affects about 1 in 7 birthing parents. But know that it is treatable.
It’s common for new parents to experience a rollercoaster of emotions during pregnancy and in the first few weeks after giving birth.
This is an especially vulnerable time. You’re going through a lot of changes, both physically and emotionally.
You may cry for no apparent reason or find yourself more irritable than usual. Little things that didn’t bother you before may make you want to scream in frustration now.
It’s natural to feel this way during pregnancy and in the first few weeks to months after giving birth.
However, if your symptoms become more intense, it might be a sign of major depressive disorder (MDD) with peripartum onset, aka peripartum (formerly postpartum) depression.
If you’re experiencing peripartum depression, you’re not alone. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 1 in 7 people who have given birth experience peripartum depression.
Unlike the “baby blues” that usually only last for the first 2 weeks after delivery, peripartum depression can continue for months or more.
Peripartum depression symptoms are serious often including feelings of:
- extreme sadness
Symptoms can vary from one person to the next. No two people’s experiences are exactly alike.
Let’s take a look at what these symptoms look like.
Symptoms of peripartum depression can look similar to those of other types of depression.
These symptoms often become so intense that they disrupt day-to-day life, eventually affecting your work and home life.
Not everyone will have the same symptoms. If you start feeling these symptoms during your pregnancy, you may not know why.
You may not even be aware that you’re having them. You may attribute them to just “being pregnant.”
But symptoms of peripartum depression are more serious, and if left untreated or ignored, they can cause problems for you and baby.
If you have peripartum depression, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- feeling sad and hopeless
- crying frequently
- feeling constantly overwhelmed
- feeling detached or uninterested in your baby
- feeling anxiety that you or someone else will hurt your baby
- feeling disconnected from your partner, family, or friends
- struggling to concentrate
- having difficulty eating or sleeping
- feeling shame and guilt
- feeling irritable, angry, or enraged
- having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm
Many people feel ashamed of their symptoms, so they might be afraid to ask for help. This can make them feel more guilty, isolated, and lonely.
Any new parent or parent-to-be can experience depression related to baby’s birth. Although most statistics on peripartum depression focus on cisgender women who are the gestational parent (i.e., the parent who’s pregnant and gives birth), their partners can become depressed, too.
Peripartum depression can also affect surrogates. And it’s important to remember that women aren’t the only people who get peripartum depression, as transgender men and nonbinary people who become pregnant and give birth can also experience the condition.
Certain factors might mean you’re more at risk for developing peripartum depression, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. These factors include:
- a personal or family history of mental illness
- past trauma
- added stress
- lack of support
- difficulties with breastfeeding
- past difficulties with pregnancy or breastfeeding
- an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy
- being younger than 20
- complications during birth in the past
Not everyone who fits one or more of these criteria will develop peripartum depression.
But if any of them describe your circumstances, it’s a good idea to surround yourself with support. You might turn to family, friends, a healthcare or mental health professional, or a support group.
Peripartum depression can be treated. The first step is reaching out for support. You might want to start by speaking with someone you trust about how you’re feeling.
Then, consider talking with your primary care doctor or obstetrician. They may be able to refer you to a therapist or counselor for diagnosis and treatment.
Treatment may include therapy, medication, or a combination of both.
Your treatment plan may not look the same as someone else’s. It will be tailored to fit you and your needs.
Psychotherapy is a common treatment for peripartum depression. This involves talking with a therapist about your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. A therapist will also help you identify different coping skills.
Some common types of psychotherapy used for depression include:
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- interpersonal therapy
- psychodynamic therapy
It might help to look for a therapist in your area who specializes in peripartum depression. You can reach out to your primary care doctor, gynecologist, or pediatrician to ask for recommendations for therapists.
Antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most common medications used for depression.
In 2019, the
Bright light therapy
You could also try to get a light therapy box for artificial sunlight.
In addition to treatment, you might also benefit from some self-care strategies. This could include joining a support group for new parents.
Certain daily habits might help you feel better, such as doing some gentle exercise, connecting with friends and family, and eating nutritious food.
Although it can be difficult, getting enough sleep is important. Research from 2015 suggests poorer sleep can worsen symptoms.
Although there’s no sure-fire way to prevent peripartum depression, you can do a few things to minimize your risk of developing it.
Consider talking with your doctor if you’re experiencing any symptoms of depression during pregnancy (or if you’re planning to conceive soon). Many people benefit from therapy, not only those who have diagnosed disorders.
Implement healthy habits
Adding healthy habits and strategies that support your mental health may help. For example, you can:
- exercise more
- avoid caffeine and alcohol
- eat a balanced, nutritious diet
- take prenatal vitamins and any medication prescribed by your doctor
- engage in your favorite hobbies
- journal as an emotional and creative outlet
Consider talking with your doctor about these options before trying them to make sure they’re safe for your specific situation. They also may be able to give you additional ideas.
Having a new baby is challenging in any circumstances, and it’s important to reach out to your loved ones and nurture your relationships with family and friends.
You can also meet other parents through parenting groups (online or in person) and perinatal classes.
If you or someone close to you are experiencing symptoms of peripartum depression, consider reaching out for support.
Your doctor will be able to refer you to a counselor or therapist for an accurate exam and diagnosis.
In February 2019, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that pregnant people and people more likely to develop peripartum depression be referred for counseling.
A few resources and support groups may also be helpful, including:
If you think you or a loved one has peripartum depression, consider reaching out to a healthcare professional.
There are many ways to treat peripartum depression, and together with your therapist and doctor, you can find a way to cope with your symptoms.