Could you be at risk for postpartum depression?

People who are at a higher risk of developing depression during or after pregnancy can do a few things to get ahead of mood disorders so that if they appear, they’re ready to deal with them and have support in place.

First, what are the risk factors for developing depression during and after pregnancy? There are a number of factors that can make people more likely to experience depression during pregnancy and the postpartum period. These factors include:

  • anxiety disorder
  • life stressors, including stress at work, financial stress, housing instability, familial or relationship stress, or anything else that’s adding extra emotional strain throughout pregnancy
  • a history of depression or other mood disorders
  • a lack of social support 
  • a lack of workplace support — for example, when a woman’s workplace doesn’t offer strong support to parents in the form of paid time off for medical appointments or family leave; the support of their partner’s workplace is also a factor, as this can determine how present they can be to offer support both during pregnancy and after baby’s arrival
  • unintended pregnancy
  • intimate partner violence and being involved in an emotionally abusive relationship
  • violent or emotionally abusive relationships with family members

If you have risk factors or feel like you need support, talk therapy is a great way for pregnant people who don’t have depression to stay aware of changes in their moods and to identify types and sources of stress as they emerge. And if depression does emerge, those who have already sought talk therapy will have trust-based relationships with therapists to immediately draw on.

Another way to keep an eye out for mood changes, and the possibility of mood disorders, is to keep track of sleep patterns, make note of any changes, and be sure to get plenty of rest. It’s also a good idea to make a plan for getting enough rest after giving birth. This is helpful both because changes in sleep patterns, including sharp increases and decreases in sleep, are signs of depression but also because lack of sleep has been suggested as a contributing factor in postpartum depression.

If you’ve had depression or other mood disorders in the past, it’s important to keep an eye out for symptoms you’ve experienced before. There’s no guarantee that depression during or after pregnancy will look exactly the same as depression earlier in life, but awareness is key.

Many experts recommend that people who are already being treated for depression before pregnancy continue that treatment throughout pregnancy (medication, therapy, etc.) For those who have discontinued treatment during pregnancy, if depression returns, it’s a good time to talk through the risks and benefits of returning to the pre-pregnancy treatment plan. Even when there are risks associated with certain medications, in many cases, the risk to mom and baby of untreated depression may be considered even more serious.

Signs of depression during pregnancy can include:

  • feeling sad without any break from it (all downs, no ups)
  • having trouble enjoying the things you usually like to do
  • frequent crying
  • severe mood fluctuations
  • excessive sleeping or trouble sleeping
  • avoiding conversations about feelings
  • low self-esteem about motherhood, or feeling especially unprepared for parenthood
  • excessive anxiety about the baby
  • not responding well or feeling comforted when the people in your life try to reassure you
  • having trouble sticking to a healthy prenatal care routine
  • using smoking, drinking, or illicit drugs as a means to cope with emotions
  • low weight gain for your pregnancy’s trajectory due to decreased appetite or diet
  • a sense of hopelessness
  • thoughts of suicide or hurting yourself
  • thoughts of hurting someone else, including the baby

If you notice one or more of these symptoms, you should talk to your healthcare provider about the possibility of depression. If you feel like you are in danger of hurting yourself or someone else, you should call 911 or call or text the 24-hour hotline of the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988; TTY: call 711 then 988 or video call or text 988.

También disponible en español, llame 988.

Treatment is possible, and you deserve to feel like your best self. 

  • Lori T. Altshuler, Victoria Hendrick, Lee S. Cohen. “An update on mood and anxiety disorders in the postpartum period.” The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 2(6): 217-222. December 2000. 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.
  • Marie-Louise H. Rasmussen, et al. “Risk, treatment duration, and recurrence risk of postpartum affective disorder in women with no prior psychiatric history: a population-based cohort study.” September 2017. Retrieved July 2 2018.
  • “Postpartum depression risk, duration, and recurrence.” Eureka Alert! American Association for the Advancement of Science, September 26 2017. Retrieved July 2 2018.

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