Childbirth and the newborn period is supposed to be a joyful time. It’s stressful and overwhelming and sleep is hard to come by, but new moms are increasingly struggling with one more hurdle to enjoying time with their newborn. Depression.
About 25% of women in the United States will have depression bad enough to require treatment at some time in their life. Sadness, feeling that life isn’t worth living, not enjoying things that used to bring you joy, lack of motivation, trouble sleeping, and unusual fatigue are all symptoms of depression. What happens when a woman suffers depression in pregnancy?
An article published recently in Obstetrics & Gynecology looked at rates of depression diagnoses in women hospitalized for childbirth. The authors found that rates of depression increased from 0.41% in 2000 to 2.87% in 2015. That’s a seven-fold increase.
This study wasn’t designed to discover why diagnosis rates went up. It’s possible awareness is increasing so more patients are getting diagnosed, when the rates of illness aren’t actually rising. We do know that depression in pregnancy has serious consequences for both mom and baby, so more accurate diagnosis is important.
There are many possible triggers for depression, in pregnancy and at other times. Family history, stress, complications with the pregnancy or previous pregnancy loss, history of abuse or trauma, and relationship problems can all lead to depression.
Depression in pregnancy can have health consequences for both mom and baby. Poor nutrition, lack of exercise, alcohol and other drug abuse, smoking, poor sleep and social isolation can all stem from depression. Not taking good care of oneself during pregnancy (which includes withdrawing from loved ones who can help provide support) can lead to less robust health once the baby arrives.
Poor nutrition, substance abuse (including smoking) and social isolation can increase the risk of premature birth, low birth weight, bonding problems, and abuse/neglect of the baby once born.
If a pregnant women is feeling sad from time to time, usually all that is needed is to talk about her feelings honestly with her mate or a close friend or other family member. Symptoms that are severe enough to keep her from enjoying life, that last longer than 2 weeks or so, should be discussed with her obstetrician or family doctor.
Treatment can start with some dietary and nutrition changes and talk therapy with a trained counselor. If symptoms are bad enough, medication can definitely be prescribed to help with the mood. Remember, although no medication is perfectly safe in pregnancy (or at any other time, really), the risks of depression in pregnancy can be significant.
Pregnancy, while confusing, overwhelming and sometimes uncomfortable, doesn’t have to be as big a struggle as it is with depression. If you or a woman you know is struggling with depression in pregnancy, please make sure to discuss your symptoms with your doctor.
QUESTION: Have you or someone you know suffered with depression while pregnant? What helped?