How can pre-existing mental health conditions affect a pregnancy?

There are many pre-existing health conditions, like autoimmune diseases, hypertension, and cervical abnormalities, that can make a pregnancy more prone to certain complications. Healthcare providers are often on the lookout for these conditions, but there’s a whole family of pre-existing health conditions that are sometimes overlooked that can have an equally serious impact, especially during pregnancy: mental health conditions.

We increasingly hear more about postpartum depression (PPD) these days thanks to illuminating studies and portrayals of PPD in the media. This is a good thing, since it means that society is finally shining a greater light on this common condition that affects about 1 in 7 new moms. What we should also be discussing, though, is depression and anxiety during pregnancy, which can take an equally serious toll, and make postpartum depression more likely.

According to the March of Dimes, women who have experienced depression before are more likely to develop depression during pregnancy. Depression is generally caused by a combination of factors, some of which include shifts in chemical balances and stress. Unfortunately, chemical changes and stress are both commonplace during pregnancy.

Although any woman can develop depression during pregnancy (Mayo Clinic states that between 14 and 23% of women suffer from depression), research demonstrates that those with a history of depression are more likely to develop it in pregnancy and the postpartum periods (together called the perinatal period).

Are antidepressants safe during pregnancy?

First things first: if you’re currently on an antidepressant, it’s important to continue taking your medication until you have a conversation with your healthcare provider.

There are no hard and fast rules about antidepressants during pregnancy. Women take medications to treat all kinds of illnesses during pregnancy and sometimes medication is needed to treat depression. There are many effective and safe options for treatment during pregnancy and medication can be one of those options. It’s up to each individual pregnant person dealing with depression to work with their medical provider to determine whether antidepressants are their best option.  

If you end up dealing with depression during pregnancy, your healthcare provider knows the most about your medication and your mental health history, and can help you make the right decision for you and your baby. Your mental health is a key component of your overall health during pregnancy. It is important to remember that untreated depression can also impact your baby’s health. If you end up facing symptoms of depression during pregnancy, the best thing you can do for yourself and for your baby it to get the treatment that you need and deserve.  

Does a history of depression make PPD more likely?

Current estimates are that postpartum depression affects about one in seven new moms, but women with a history of depression are even more likely to develop it. One study published in the journal Depression and Anxiety concludes that women with a history of depression are more than 20 times more likely than those without a history of depression to develop PPD.

Other factors beyond a history of depression contribute to postpartum depression, but if you know that you may be more likely to develop PPD, it’s good to open up lines of communication with your healthcare provider beforehand.

The bottom line

Mental health conditions can greatly impact one’s quality of life and overall health, and that’s especially true during pregnancy. The best thing you can do for yourself and your baby it to get the treatment that you need and deserve. Screening tools exist that can better help you understand your risk of depression, so regularly taking these screeners, as well as speaking with your healthcare provider, are both great ways to stay on top of your mental health.

Read more
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Antidepressants: safe during pregnancy?” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, February 28 2018. Retrieved July 2 2018.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Depression during pregnancy: you’re not alone.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, November 24 2016. Retrieved July 2 2018.
  • M.E. Silverman, et al. “The risk factors of postpartum depression: a population-based study.” Depression and Anxiety. 34(2): 178-187. February 2017. Retrieved July 2 2018.
  • “Depression during pregnancy.” March of Dimes. March of Dimes, May 2018. Retrieved July 2 2018. 
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