Pregnancy or Childbirth-Related Depression Symptoms, Causes & Treatment Options

Pregnancy and childbirth are joyous occasions; however, perinatal depression is very common and affects one in seven women [1].

Pregnancy or Childbirth-Related Depression Symptom Checker

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Contents

  1. Overview
  2. Symptoms
  3. Potential Causes
  4. Treatment, Prevention and Relief
  5. When to Seek Further Consultation
  6. References

What Is Pregnancy or Childbirth-Related Depression?

Summary

Pregnancy-related depression is a common illness that changes both your emotional and physical health. Pregnancy is a high-risk time for new or reactivated depression, and if it is not treated, it can lead to continued depression after your child is born. Diagnosis of depression during pregnancy requires the presence of at least five key symptoms for most days over a two-week period. These symptoms include but are not limited to a depressed mood, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, or thoughts of death or suicide. If you have pregnancy-related depression, you may require treatment with psychotherapy or an antidepressant. [2].

Recommended care

Pregnancy or Childbirth-Related Depression Symptoms

Main symptoms

The diagnosis of depression during pregnancy or childbirth requires the presence of multiple symptoms over a two-week period. There are two main symptoms associated with depression. [3]

  • Sad or depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that you used to enjoy

Other symptoms

Other symptoms that are commonly associated with pregnancy or childbirth-related depression include the following: [4]

  • Weight loss or weight gain not related to dieting
  • Decrease or increase in your appetite
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Moving more slowly or more quickly than normal
  • Fatigue or a decrease in your energy level
  • Feeling like you are worthless or feeling guilty
  • Having trouble concentrating or decision making
  • Thoughts of hurting yourself
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Thoughts of death

Pregnancy or Childbirth-Related Depression Causes

There are several reasons why you might develop depression before, during, or after pregnancy. If you have a history of a mood disorder, anxiety, depression in a prior pregnancy, PMS, or a family history of psychiatric illness, you are at a higher risk for developing pregnancy-related depression. Additionally, if you have a history of childhood abuse, are having an unplanned pregnancy, have limited social support, or use drugs or alcohol you are at risk for developing depression during your pregnancy. Stress in a relationship with a partner is also a major risk factor for perinatal depression, specifically, domestic violence. If you are at risk for developing depression during your pregnancy, your doctor can monitor you for early signs of depression throughout your pregnancy so that you can receive the appropriate interventions. There is also a strong association between stillbirth or miscarriage and postpartum depression. [4]

Pregnancy or Childbirth-Related Depression Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out if your symptoms point to pregnancy or childbirth-related depression

Treatment Options, Relief, and Prevention for Pregnancy or Childbirth-Related Depression

Treatment

Pregnancy-related depression can be mild, moderate or severe. For milder cases of pregnancy-related depression and postpartum depression, you can seek out psychotherapy. There are several types of psychotherapy including interpersonal therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and group therapy. Interpersonal therapy focuses on developing strategies to cope with challenging life transitions. Cognitive behavioral therapy encourages individuals to recognize destructive thought patterns and interrupt them so that they do not keep happening. Group therapy is recommended to prenatal women because it has been shown to reduce the chance of developing depression during or after pregnancy. There is still limited research with regards to what types of therapy are effective for women with prenatal depression.

If you are having thoughts of hurting yourself or committing, you should talk to your doctor about taking an anti-depressant to help with your symptoms of depression during pregnancy. It is recommended to take anti-depressants throughout your pregnancy to help with your symptoms. Examples of anti-depressants that are most commonly prescribed to individuals struggling with pregnancy-related depression are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Your mood should be observed very closely throughout your pregnancy, especially during the third trimester, because changes to the body during pregnancy can change what dose of anti-depressant you should take. Examples of SSRIs include fluoxetine (i.e., Prozac), paroxetine (i.e., Paxil), sertraline (i.e., Zoloft), and citalopram (i.e., Celexa). An example of an SNRI is venlafaxine.

A less common type of therapy for pregnancy-related depression is bright light therapy. While you are sitting or working, you sit near a box that shines light that is similar to natural outdoor light. It is most helpful if you also have variation in your mood with seasons; for example, if you are much happier during the summer in comparison to the winter. [2]

Prevention

Several measures can be taken to reduce your risk of developing pregnancy-related depression. If you have any of the risk factors noted above, such as a history of depression or anxiety, a stressful relationship with your partner, or having an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, you can benefit from early and frequent counseling throughout your pregnancy.

Specifically, interpersonal therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy are also recommended to help prevent in addition to help treat pregnancy-related depression. Interpersonal therapy helps new mothers navigate challenging life transitions such as becoming a mother for the first time. It can also teach you how to effectively communicate with other loved ones in your life about your needs and desires during your pregnancy. Cognitive behavioral therapy will help you identify and change negative thoughts such as a global view that “you are going to be a bad parent”. It will help you identify a negative thought, challenge why it is wrong, and develop a more productive way of thinking. [5]

Moreover, if you have a history of depression that is treated with an anti-depressant, you should talk to your doctor about continuing to take your anti-depressant throughout your pregnancy. Although eating healthy, exercising, and getting enough sleep have not been proved scientifically to decrease your risk for developing depression during pregnancy, all of these positive measures definitely will not hurt. [6]

When to Seek Further Consultation for Pregnancy or Childbirth-Related Depression

If any of your symptoms related to depression become severe you should seek out advice from a healthcare professional as soon as possible either in person or via a national helpline such as the 24-hour substance abuse and mental health services administration (SAMHSA) helpline, a service that is free and confidential to all who seek it out. This includes if you lose or gain a significant amount of weight, if you stop eating or are eating excessively, if you are unable to sleep, if you are so tired that you cannot do your daily tasks, if you are having trouble focusing, or if you are having trouble making daily decisions. It is important to ensure that you can take care of yourself and stay healthy so that your baby also develops well throughout the course of your pregnancy.

Additionally, if you have thoughts of hurting yourself, hurting your baby, or hurting anyone else you should seek care emergently. If you have thoughts of committing suicide, have attempted to commit suicide, or have a suicide plan in place you should support from a medical professional immediately in person via an emergency room or an urgent care center. [7]