Depression During Pregnancy

Depression during pregnancy is a mood disorder just like clinical depression. Mood disorders are biological illnesses that involve changes in brain chemistry. During pregnancy, hormone changes can affect brain chemicals, which are directly related to depression and anxiety. These can be exacerbated by difficult life situations, which can result in depression during pregnancy.


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Prevalence and Risk Factors

According to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) between 14-23% of women will struggle with some symptoms of depression during pregnancy. Depression is a mood disorder that affects 1 in 4 women during their lifetime, including women who are pregnant.

It was thought that elevated levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone “protected” pregnant women from depression, but recent studies suggest otherwise. Heredity is a more likely indicator. Women who become depressed during pregnancy are likely to have a personal or family history of the illness.

Other risk factors include relationship problems, family or personal history of depression, infertility treatments, previous pregnancy loss, stressful life events, complications in pregnancy, and history of abuse or trauma.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms affecting pregnant women are changes in appetite, changes in sleep, and a lack of energy. These symptoms can be attributed to the pregnancy itself, which is why depression is sometimes misdiagnosed or ignored in pregnant women. Women with depression usually experience some of the following symptoms for 2 weeks or more:

  • persistent sadness
  • difficulty concentrating
  • sleeping too little or too much
  • loss of interest in activities that you usually enjoy
  • recurring thoughts of death, suicide, or hopelessness
  • anxiety
  • feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • change in eating habits

Screening Tools

The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale is a 10 question screening tool to assess symptoms of depression during and after pregnancy.

Click here to view Postpartum Depression Screening Scale

Risks of Untreated Depression

Severe depression can have long-term consequences for both mother and baby. Studies have also shown that postpartum depression is more likely to occur if depression during pregnancy goes untreated.

Untreated depression can lead to poor nutrition, drinking, smoking, and suicidal behavior in the mother. It can also cause premature birth, low birth weight, and developmental problems. A depressed woman sometimes does not have the strength or desire to adequately care for herself or her developing baby. Babies born to mothers who are depressed may be less active, show less attention and are more irritable and agitated.

Treatment Options

Treatment for postnatal depression may include:

  • Individual psychotherapy
  • Medications
  • Support groups
  • Light therapy