Everyone experiences feelings of sadness. They are a natural response to life’s difficult times and events, and they usually lessen with time.
Clinical depression goes beyond feelings of sadness and is a real illness with potentially serious consequences. It is a mood disorder and impacts people’s quality of life. People with depression struggle with daily life because it affects the way they function.
Relationships, self-esteem, work, motivation, sleep, appetite, and more are all affected by depression. It is not a weakness and is a condition that requires treatment from a healthcare professional.
It was once believed that pregnancy hormones could protect a mother-to-be from depression, but this is no longer the case. Changes in hormones during pregnancy can make a woman highly emotional, and this makes it harder to cope with depression.
Some women experience depression after the birth of a child, known as postpartum depression. It is not to be confused with the “baby blues,” which is mild depression that usually goes away within 2 weeks of the baby’s birth.
Women can also start to feel depressed while they are pregnant. This is known as perinatal depression.
Perinatal depression is a major depression with extreme feelings of sadness, anxiety, and tiredness. This illness can make it difficult for a new mother to take care of herself and her baby once it is born.
Perinatal depression may result from a combination of emotional, physical, and environmental factors. Some of the risk factors are:
- Previously having depression
- A family history of depression
- An unplanned pregnancy
- A problematic pregnancy or birth experience
- Giving birth to twins or more
- Financial worries
- Relationship difficulties
- Not having a support network of family or friends
- Smoking, drinking alcohol, using drugs
Some of the signs and symptoms of depression are:
- Feeling extremely sad, angry, or overwhelmed
- Having a sense of hopelessness or a lack of interest
- Feeling anxious or irritable
- Being tearful
- Feeling worthless, guilty, or like a failure
- Having no energy and finding it difficult to complete tasks
- Not sleeping or sleeping too much
- Eating more or less than usual
- Having difficulty concentrating, remembering things, or making decisions
- Avoiding contact with friends and family
- Thoughts of suicide
- Body aches and pains
Effects of depression on a baby
Depression can affect a mother’s relationship with her baby. Early bonding is important for the baby’s development, but perinatal depression makes it difficult for a mother to feel close to her baby. It can also make it hard for her to respond to what her baby needs.
Depression, when left untreated, can potentially cause:
- A premature birth that takes place before 37 weeks of pregnancy
- An underweight baby, weighing less than 5 pounds 8 ounces
- A more irritable baby who is not very attentive or expressive
A mother-to-be with depression can have trouble taking care of herself during pregnancy. She might not eat healthily or put on sufficient weight, and she might miss prenatal appointments. Treatment for depression during pregnancy can help prevent these problems.
Treating depression before, during, and after pregnancy is crucial to the health of the mother and baby. There are several treatment options. Most often, a combined treatment plan works best. The treatments include:
- Counseling or talk therapies
- Support groups
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
Alternative treatments such as light therapy and acupuncture are another option. It’s also important to have a healthy diet, regular exercise, and enough sleep.
Medication for depression
A common treatment option is antidepressant medication.
Antidepressants that may be prescribed during pregnancy include:
- Some SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), such as citalopram, fluoxetine, and sertraline
- SNRIs (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), such as duloxetine and venlafaxine
- Bupropion, which is used for both depression and to help stop smoking
Doctors caring for women before, during, and after pregnancy carefully weigh the benefits and risks of taking antidepressant medication. If someone is taking antidepressant medication, they should not stop taking it without a doctor’s advice.
Some medications may carry a low risk of birth defects.
Symptoms such as irritability and jitters may occur in a newborn whose mother took antidepressant medication during pregnancy.
Depression after pregnancy, or postpartum depression, is a mood disorder. The woman experiences feelings of sadness, anxiety, and tiredness following the birth of her baby.
Postpartum depression occurs in around 12 percent of births. It can begin any time after delivery, but it is most common between a week and a month after childbirth.
There isn’t a single cause of postpartum depression. Most likely, it is the result of several physical and emotional factors, including sleep deprivation, exhaustion, and hormonal changes.
The symptoms of postpartum depression are similar to those of perinatal depression. The mother may also have trouble bonding with her baby, or thoughts of harming herself or her baby.
Postpartum depression usually requires medical treatment. As with perinatal depression, some women have a greater chance of developing postpartum depression because they have one or more of the risk factors.
Treatment for postpartum depression is usually medication, counseling, or both.
There is no known way to prevent depression from happening. Knowing what symptoms to look for can help reduce the effects on both mother and baby.
To help prevent depression during and after pregnancy, people should:
- Learn the signs and symptoms
- Get as much information on parenting, pregnancy, and childbirth as possible
- Plan ahead and identify the people who can offer support
- Talk openly with a healthcare provider about depression symptoms
Once the baby arrives, a new mother can benefit from:
- Spending time with other new mothers
- Taking a bit of time each day to do something enjoyable like having a bath, reading a book, or listening to music
- Being realistic about how much it is possible to get done with a newborn baby
- Asking for help from family and friends
- Resting when the baby rests
It is always important to remember that depression during or after pregnancy is a real medical condition that requires medical attention.