Perinatal Depression: More than the Baby Blues
Pregnancy and new motherhood can be two of the most joyful and exciting times in a woman’s life—but what if they’re not?
In this resource
It is natural to experience changes in feelings and mood during pregnancy and up to a year after pregnancy. Shifting moods are usually manageable, but depression during and after pregnancy can have negative effects on mom, baby, and other family members.
Babies are born ready to fall in love with their parents and caregivers. Depression can make that process feel harder at times, but it’s important to remember that moms with depression are still great parents. You are still the center of your baby’s world. Your baby is still crazy about you. Getting help gives you more energy for the hard work of parenting a newborn, and more energy for the fun parts, too.
What Is Perinatal Depression?
Perinatal depression includes depression during pregnancy or within a year after birth or the end of a pregnancy. Depression is one of the most common medical complications during pregnancy and the following year, and affects about 1 in 7 women.
I blamed myself when I was depressed after Mia was born—I felt like I wasn’t good enough, or there was something wrong with me that I couldn’t connect with Mia. I didn’t want to go out and see all the other Moms who made it look so easy.
Kristen, mother to Mia, age 9 months
Experiencing depression before or after the birth of a baby is not unusual, and you are not alone. There are many terms for depression during this period including: the baby blues, postpartum depression, maternal depression, prenatal depression, postnatal depression, or perinatal depression. Depression can be mild, moderate, or severe.
Who Is Most Likely to Experience Maternal Depression?
Depression can affect women of any race, age, or socioeconomic background, and it can occur with any pregnancy or birth. Without treatment, symptoms may last a few weeks, months, or even years. Depression can emerge in women who had a healthy pregnancy and who very much wanted (and adore) their baby. Depression is not a sign of poor parenthood. Rather, it’s a sign of illness.
What Are the Common Signs of Perinatal Depression?
Many mothers experience emotional ups and downs. It’s important to talk to a physician if you are experiencing any of the following:
- sad feelings that don’t go away,
- unusual anxiety and worry,
- excessive irritability or crankiness,
- eating or sleeping much more than usual, or trouble with insomnia, and/or
- difficulty concentrating, remembering things, or making decisions.
Many of these are also symptoms of having a newborn in the house, so it’s important to consider how intense your symptoms are and whether they’ve lasted more than 2 weeks.
Less common, but also important symptoms include:
- loss of interest in caring for yourself (dressing, bathing, fixing hair, etc.)
- not feeling up to doing everyday tasks
- frequent crying, even about little things
- feelings of anger
- withdrawing from loved ones, including the baby
- lack of interest in the baby; feeling numb or disconnected from the baby
- loss of pleasure or interest in things you used to enjoy
- fear of hurting your baby, other family members, or yourself
- feeling guilty or doubting your ability to care for the baby
When should you seek help?
Seeking help from a health care provider for perinatal depression is a step toward regaining your energy and a sense of emotional wellness—something every expectant or new mother deserves, because parenting is hard even when you’re at your best.
Mothers or expectant mothers should seek help if:
- Any of the symptoms mentioned above lasts longer than 2 weeks, or
- The symptoms are severe or worrisome to you, your family, or friends.
In rare cases, the symptoms of perinatal depression are severe and may put either mother or baby in potential danger. If you are feeling like you may hurt yourself or your child, contact a health care provider immediately or go to your nearest emergency room.
Remember: Help is available—you don’t have to suffer alone.
How Is Perinatal Depression Treated?
Depression is treatable. The first step is contacting a health care provider. There are a range of treatments for perinatal depression, including:
- increased support from family and friends
- a focus on health and wellness—including changes to diet and exercise routine
- support groups for new mothers or people with depression
- mental health counseling
- medication that can help relieve symptoms
For more information on depression during and after pregnancy:
- Postpartum Progress
- Postpartum Health Alliance
- Postpartum Support International
- March of Dimes
- HRSA Maternal and Child Health Bureau
by Jodie Fishman