Antepartum depression is a common mental health condition that may occur during pregnancy. Healthcare professionals also call it perinatal depression. Symptoms can range from mild to severe.

Depression is a common mood disorder that can cause feelings of sadness or hopelessness that a person cannot get rid of.

Antepartum depression is a type of depression that may occur during pregnancy. In severe cases, it can lead to potential health risks for both the pregnant person and the developing fetus.

This article reviews what antepartum depression is, its symptoms and causes, and more.

A pregnant person sat on a chair with a small dog. Antepartum depression is the term for depression experienced during pregnancy.Share on Pinterest
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Antepartum depression is a form of mood disorder that may occur while a person is pregnant. “Antepartum” means “before birth.”

Healthcare professionals may also refer to this condition as perinatal depression, which is the collective term for depression that occurs during and after pregnancy.

The condition can cause feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and depressed mood. It can range in severity from mild to severe.

In a 2022 study of 1,745 pregnant women in Nigeria, researchers found that the prevalence rate of antepartum depression was 14.1%. The authors of a 2019 systematic review found a slightly higher prevalence rate of 16.4%.

The symptoms of antepartum depression are similar to those of major depressive disorder. A person may experience one or more of the following:

  • irritability
  • persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • fatigue, or unusual lack of energy
  • unusual changes in appetite, weight, or both
  • feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, guilt, or helplessness
  • loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • trouble falling sleep
  • restlessness or difficulty sitting still
  • difficulty concentrating, remembering things, or making decisions
  • persistent thoughts of doubt
  • aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems with no clear cause
  • thoughts of suicide, death, or harming oneself or the unborn baby

A person should talk with a healthcare professional if they suspect they may have depression.

If a person has thoughts of suicide or self-harm or is worried about someone else who may be having these thoughts, they should call the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline immediately at 988.

Learn more about the signs of depression and how to spot them.

Why might symptoms go unnoticed during pregnancy?

Some symptoms of depression are physical. A person may experience symptoms such as fatigue, trouble sleeping, and difficulty concentrating but assume that these symptoms are related to pregnancy instead of depression.

A person may also feel pressure to feel happy during pregnancy due to societal or family expectations. This could lead a pregnant person not to seek help due to fear of the stigma around depression.

Learn more about what to expect during pregnancy.

Often, there is no clear reason why a person may develop antepartum depression. It can affect people of any age, race, ethnicity, or income level.

In a 2019 study, researchers found that a strong social support system can help improve a person’s mental health during pregnancy. This suggests that the lack of a strong social network may increase a person’s risk of developing antepartum depression.

Other possible risk factors include:

  • Lack of sleep: One study suggests a link between poor sleep, antepartum depression, and suicidal thoughts.
  • Stress: Stress during pregnancy may increase the chances of antepartum depression.
  • Nutritional deficiencies: A lack of nutrients such as vitamin D may also increase the risk of antepartum depression.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that all healthcare professionals screen people for depression and anxiety symptoms at least once during pregnancy.

Scores from the screening can help them diagnose antepartum depression.

Treatment for antepartum depression may include psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two. Healthcare professionals will consider the person’s individual symptoms and needs.

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, for antepartum depression may include cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy. Both methods can be effective in helping a person cope with depression.

Pregnancy may complicate treatment with medication since several antidepressants have links to heart problems. A healthcare professional should review possible risks with the pregnant person.

Antidepressants for antepartum depression may include:

Antepartum depression can affect the pregnant person’s mental, emotional, and physical health, as well as the health of the fetus.

Antepartum depression can lead to complications such as:

If a person experiences symptoms of depression, they should consider speaking with a healthcare professional or a licensed mental health professional such as a psychiatrist.

A healthcare professional will typically review a person’s symptoms and provide an assessment screening to find out whether they have antepartum depression. They can then refer the person for treatment, if necessary.

If a person is having thoughts of suicide or self-harm or is worried that someone else may be having these thoughts, they should call the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline immediately at 988. This helpline’s workers can offer support.

Antepartum depression is a type of depression that can occur during pregnancy. It can affect mental and emotional well-being and cause physical issues for the pregnant person and complications in the developing fetus.

Healthcare professionals typically screen for depression at least once during pregnancy, but a person can ask for a screening if they notice symptoms. Previous mental health issues, sleep problems, and nutritional deficiencies can be risk factors for antepartum depression.

Once a person receives a diagnosis, they may find psychotherapy and medication helpful. A person should work with a healthcare professional to determine which medications are safe for them to take during pregnancy.