11.06.2021 – 15:56
Perinatal depression is depression that occurs during or after pregnancy. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. In rare cases, the symptoms are so severe that the health of the mother and baby can be endangered. Perinatal depression can be treated. This article describes the signs and symptoms of perinatal depression and how you can get help.
What is perinatal depression?
Perinatal depression is a mood disorder that can affect women during pregnancy and after childbirth. The word “perinatal” refers to the time before and after the birth of a child. Perinatal depression includes depression that starts during pregnancy (called prenatal depression) and depression that starts after the baby is born (called postpartum depression). Mothers with perinatal depression experience feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and fatigue that can make it difficult to perform daily tasks, including caring for themselves or others.
“Baby blues” is a term used to describe the slight mood swings and feelings of anxiety, dissatisfaction and exhaustion that many women sometimes experience in the first 2 weeks after having a baby. Babies require care throughout the day, so it is normal for mothers to feel tired or overwhelmed at times. If the mood swings and feelings of anxiety or dissatisfaction are great, or if they last more than 2 weeks, a woman may have postpartum depression. Women with postpartum depression will generally not feel better if they do not receive treatment.
What causes perinatal depression?
Perinatal depression is a real medical disease and can affect any mother – regardless of age, income, culture or education. Women have “no fault” of having perinatal depression: it did not come from anything a mother has or has not done. Perinatal depression does not have a single cause. Research suggests that perinatal depression is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Life stress (for example, work demands or past trauma experiences), the physical and emotional demands of childbirth and care for a young child, and changes in hormones that occur during and after pregnancy can all contribute to the development of perinatal depression. In addition, women are at greater risk for developing perinatal depression if they have a personal or family history of depression, bipolar disorder, or if they have experienced perinatal depression with a previous pregnancy.
Postpartum psychosis (PP) is a serious mental illness that occurs after birth. PP is a medical emergency and it is important to seek help immediately. Women who have PP may have illusions (thoughts or beliefs that are not true), hallucinations (seeing, hearing or smelling things that are not there), mania (a high mood that often seems out of touch with reality), paranoia, and confusion. Women who have PP may also be at risk of harming themselves or their baby and should get help as soon as possible. Recovery is possible with professional help.
Signs and symptoms
Some women may experience some or all of the symptoms of perinatal depression. Some of the most common symptoms of perinatal depression include:
- Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness or helplessness
- Loss of interest or enjoyment in hobbies and activities
- Fatigue or abnormal loss of energy
- Feeling anxious or having trouble staying still
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Difficulty sleeping (even when the baby is sleeping), waking up early in the morning or excessive sleep
- Abnormal appetite, weight changes, or both
- Body aches, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not have a clear physical cause or are not relieved even with treatment
- Problem in creating an emotional connection with the baby
- Persistent doubts about the ability to care for the baby
- Thoughts about death, suicide, or self-harm or infancy
Only a professional doctor can help a woman determine if the symptoms she is feeling are due to perinatal depression or something else. It is important for women who experience any of these symptoms to talk to a doctor who specializes in this condition.
Treatment for perinatal depression is important for the health of both mother and baby, as perinatal depression can have serious health effects on both. With proper treatment, most women feel better and their symptoms improve.
Treatment for perinatal depression often includes therapy, medication, or a combination of both. If these treatments do not reduce symptoms, brain stimulation therapies, such as electroconvulsive therapy, may be an opportunity to explore. A doctor in this field can help women choose the best treatment based on their symptoms.