Pregnancy and Depression

Approximately 20% of pregnant women will experience depression or anxiety, while 10–15% may develop major depression during or after their pregnancy. Women with a history of depression and anxiety are particularly vulnerable. Most women will experience some mood disturbance during the postpartum period ranging from “baby blues,” to postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis.

Post Partum Blues

Studies estimate that 50–85% of new mothers will experience the “baby blues” during the first few weeks after delivery. These normal feelings include emotional highs and lows, tearfulness, anxiety, and irritability. Onset of baby blues usually begins several days after delivery and can last from a few days to 2–3 weeks. Postpartum blues will resolve on their own without treatment.

Postpartum Depression (PPD)

Symptoms of PPD mirror those of other depressions. Unlike baby blues, PPD lasts longer, with more severe symptoms, and mood is more consistently negative. Mothers who are experiencing PPD often experience significant levels of anxiety and insomnia. Obsessive-Compulsive symptoms are not uncommon and many mothers report intrusive thoughts of harming themselves or their infant. Symptoms of PPD may begin during pregnancy or may not show up until several months after delivery. Unlike baby blues, PPD requires treatment. This may include psychotherapy and/or medication depending upon the severity of symptoms.

Common symptoms of depression:

  • Depressed or irritable mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  • A sudden change in weight or appetite
  • Inability to sleep or sleeping too much
  • Agitation or restlessness
  • Constant fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Partpartum Psychosis

This is the most severe and rarest (1–2/1000 postpartum women) form of postpartum psychiatric illness. Onset of symptoms is usually a few days after delivery. Symptoms include restlessness, irritability, and insomnia. These mothers experience rapid mood changes, confusion and erratic behavior. They may also suffer from delusional thinking and hallucinations. Mothers with these symptoms require immediate professional attention since they are at greater risk for hurting themselves or their infants.

Pregnancy and Medication

Many women experiencing depression are concerned about the impact of medication on their developing fetus or newborn. We are sensitive to these concerns and can refer you to a psychiatrist who is trained to work with pregnant and breastfeeding women. Data suggests that women can take certain psychiatric medicines without significant risks to their fetus or newborn. Treatment decision should be made on a case by case basis. There are risks and benefits to both taking medication and to not taking medication. We are experienced in helping mothers consider their options and arrive at a decision that works for them.

Important note: If you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide, seek professional help immediately through your healthcare professional, or call 411 to get the phone number for the nearest local suicide hotline.