Depression During Pregnancy

Your Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy

Pregnancy has long been viewed as a period of well-being that protected against psychiatric disorders.  But depression occurs almost as commonly in pregnant women as it does in non-pregnant women.

What factors increase my risk of being depressed during pregnancy?

  • Having a history of depression or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
  • Age at time of pregnancy – The younger you are, the higher the risk.
  • Living alone
  • Limited social support
  • Marital conflict
  • Ambivalence about the pregnancy

What is the impact of depression on pregnancy?

  • Depression can interfere with a woman’s ability to care for herself during pregnancy.  You might be less able to follow medical recommendations, and sleep and eat properly.
  • Depression can put you at risk for increased use of substances that have a negative impact on pregnancy (tobacco, alcohol, illegal drugs).
  • Depression might interfere with your ability to bond with your growing baby.  A baby in the womb is able to recognize the mother’s voice and sense emotion by pitch, rhythm and stress.  Pregnant women with depression might find it difficult to develop this bond and instead might feel emotionally isolated.

How does pregnancy affect depression?

  • The stresses of pregnancy can cause depression or a recurrence or worsening of depression symptoms.
  • Depression during pregnancy can place you at risk for having an episode of depression after delivery (post-partum depression)

Are there any other things I should know about?

Growing evidence suggests that many of the currently available antidepressant medicines are relatively safe for treating depression during pregnancy, at least in terms of short-term effects on the baby.  Long-term effects have not been fully studied.  You should discuss the possible risks and benefits with your doctor.

So what are my options if I’m depressed during my pregnancy?

  • Preparing for a new baby is lots of hard work, but your health should come first.  So resist the urge to get everything done.  Cut down on your chores and do things that will help you relax.  And remember, taking care of yourself is an essential part of taking care of your unborn child.
  • Talking about your concerns is very important.  Talk to your friends, your partner, and your family.  If you ask for support, you’ll find that you often get it.

If you are not finding relief from anxiety and depression by making these changes, seek your doctor’s advice or a referral to a mental health professional.  Therapy and anti-depressants can be very effective for pregnant women.