Depression is a common experience during pregnancy, affecting between 14 and 23 percent of pregnant women, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Although there has been a growing awareness regarding women’s vulnerability to postpartum depression in the weeks following delivery, it is often surprising for new mothers or pregnant women to hear just how common it is to experience depression during pregnancy, said Anna Glezar, M.D., a Harvard-trained clinician with current appointments in reproductive psychiatry and OB/GYN departments at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center.
Risk factors associated with depression during pregnancy
When women develop depression during pregnancy they are considered to have antenatal, prenatal or perinatal depression. Often due to increased hormonal fluctuations, stress and other difficult life situations, research indicates that almost a third of women experience depression during pregnancy. A systematic review by Christie A. Lancaster, M.D., M.S., and her colleagues from the University of Michigan indicated that numerous factors have been associated with an increased likelihood of symptoms of antepartum depression:
- Life stress
- A history of depression
- Lacking social support
- Unintended pregnancy
- Domestic violence
- Lower income and education
- Being single
- Poor relationship quality
How common is the onset of depression during pregnancy?
The onset of unipolar and bipolar depression prior to pregnancy, during pregnancy and postpartum was recently examined by Sheehan D. Fisher, Ph.D., an instructor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and his colleagues. Of the 727 mothers who were diagnosed with unipolar or bipolar depression, Fisher and colleagues found that:
- 24.9 percent had an onset prior to pregnancy
- 36.7 percent had an onset during pregnancy
- 38.4 percent had a postpartum onset
The researchers also found that mothers who had an earlier onset of depression had more severe and frequently occurring symptoms. This finding highlights the importance of early screening and treatment of mothers who begin experiencing symptoms of depression.
Treatment of depression in pregnant women
At this time, many symptoms can be easily overlooked by practitioners due to the resemblance of symptoms of depression with common changes that occur in women during and after pregnancy. The good news is that there is treatment available to pregnant mothers experiencing depression that can help them manage their symptoms and receive support. Some of the most effective non-medication treatment options available to women with mild to moderate depression during pregnancy include psychotherapy, light therapy and support groups or medications for women with severe depression.
For women who have questions about their options, a primary provider or another health care professional can help to explain some of the risks and benefits associated with each of the treatments available. Mothers can also try other additional self-help activities to assist them in coping with their anxiety and depressive symptoms, which include:
- Talking to a friend, partner or family member about how they feel
- Leaning on loved ones when support or help is needed
- Finding a local support group
- Focusing on staying active, eating healthily and doing activities they enjoy or that help them relax
- Considering alternative therapies, including massages or acupuncture
There can be serious consequences from leaving depression untreated, including problems with labor and delivery, in the parent-child relationships and later in the child’s growth, development and well-being. It is important for mothers who experience symptoms of anxiety and/or depression during pregnancy to seek help and let their primary doctor or OB/GYN know about how they are feeling so they can reduce the negative consequences on their own and their baby’s health and well-being.
Sovereign Health of California provides individualized behavioral health treatment services to men and women who have mental health conditions such as depression, substance use disorders and co-occurring disorders. To find out more about our treatment programs at Sovereign Health, please contact our 24/7 helpline to speak to a member of our team.
About the author
Amanda Habermann is a staff writer for Sovereign Health. A graduate of California Lutheran University, she received her M.S. in clinical psychology with an emphasis in psychiatric rehabilitation. Her master’s thesis was written on “The effect of parental codependency on elementary school children’s social and emotional development,” and her research has been accepted for poster presentations at the Western Psychological Association. She brings to the team her extensive clinical background and skills in psychological testing and assessment, clinical diagnosis, research and treatment and recovery techniques for patients with mental illness. She is a passionate researcher and enjoys staying up to date on the newest topics in the field. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.