- Psychological Issues
For many mothers, the experience of pregnancy and childbirth is often followed by sadness, fear, anxiety, and difficulty making decisions. Many women have difficulty finding the energy to care for themselves, their infants, and their families. Some even have feelings about harming themselves and their children.
If this sounds like you or someone you know, there are two important things you should know.
Depression during or after pregnancy refers to a broad range of physical and emotional struggles that many women face. You may have heard this called the “Baby Blues,” Postpartum Depression, Maternal Depression, Prenatal Depression, Postnatal Depression, or Perinatal Depression. In this Web site, we will call it Perinatal Depression.
I have trouble eating and sleeping. I feel lonely, sad, and don’t have the energy to get things done. Sometimes I don’t even want to hold my baby. If this is supposed to be the happiest time of my life, why does everything feel so wrong?
Perinatal Depression can be mild, moderate or severe. It can occur during pregnancy or within a year after the end of your pregnancy. Without treatment, symptoms may last a few weeks, months, or even years. In rare cases, the symptoms are severe and indicate potential danger to the mother and baby. In all cases, help is available.
Did things change after you became pregnant? Are things different than you expected as a new mother? Are you tired, anxious, sad, and confused? This Web site will begin to explain the possible causes for your feelings—and more importantly— how to find the help you need
Many new mothers experience the Baby Blues. This is a very common reaction during the first few days after delivery. Symptoms include crying, worrying, sadness, anxiety, mood swings, trouble concentrating, difficulty sleeping, and not feeling yourself.
The Baby Blues is not the same as Perinatal Depression and does not require medical attention. With time, patience, and the support of family and friends, symptoms linked with the Baby Blues will usually disappear within a few days or within 1 to 2 weeks. If they don’t, it may be a sign of a bigger problem, and you should seek medical help.
There are a number of reasons why you may get depressed. As a woman, your body undergoes many changes during and after pregnancy. You may experience mood swings. A new baby will change your sleeping schedule and your lifestyle. In addition, there are many pressures to be the perfect mother.
Some women have family members with depression, some women have had depression in their own past, and for some women, the cause is unclear. But for every woman who suffers Perinatal Depression, the causes are as unique as she is.
Perinatal Depression can affect any woman — regardless of age, race, income, culture, or education. It affects women who breastfeed and those who don’t. It affects women with healthy babies and those whose children are ill. It affects first-time mothers and those with more than one child. It affects women who are married and those who are not. Women who had problems during pregnancy—and those who didn’t— may experience depression. Because Perinatal Depression is a health problem, it is not the fault of any woman.
I was so excited I decorated the nursery months before the baby arrived. But when she came, it was not a dream. I had no energy to smile or even to cry. I didn’t even want to pick her up. This was not how I thought it was going to be, and I was ashamed of how I felt.
I just wish that I could laugh and be happy. When will my sadness go away?
A family history of depression or bipolar disorder, a history of alcohol or drug abuse, a recent stressful event, relationship or financial problems, or a previous pregnancy with Perinatal Depression increases a woman’s chances of having Perinatal Depression.
Even before the arrival of the baby, some women experience Depression During Pregnancy. Pregnant women commonly face a large number of challenges, including morning sickness, weight gain, and mood swings. Symptoms such as feeling really tired, appetite changes and poor sleep are often dismissed as “just part of pregnancy,” but if the things you do every day are affected, you should consider seeking help. Whether the pregnancy was planned or unexpected, the changes that your body and emotions go through during pregnancy are very real — and so are the risks of Perinatal Depression during this time.
About one in eight women suffers a form of Perinatal Depression known as postpartum depression. Symptoms can begin at birth or any time in the first year after giving birth.
Common symptoms for perinatal depression include:
A very small number of women (one or two in 1000) suffer a rare and severe form of Perinatal Depression called Postpartum Psychosis. Women who have a bipolar disorder or other psychiatric problem may have a higher risk for developing this form of Perinatal Depression.
Symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis may include:
If you or someone you know fits this description, please seek medical help immediately. This is a medical emergency requiring URGENT care.
Only a trained health care or mental health professional can tell you whether you have Perinatal Depression. However, the following checklist can help you know whether you have some of the common symptoms.
Am I a Good Mother?
I was worried about what would happen if people thought I couldn’t be a good mother. But when I got help, I realized that I was still the one in control.
During the past week or two —
Did you answer yes to more than one statement?
If so, we encourage you to visit with a trained health care or mental health care professional who can help determine if you are suffering from Perinatal Depression and advise a course of action.
Checklist adapted from the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. Cox, J.L., Holden, J.M. & Sagovsky, R. (1987). “Detection of Postnatal Depression: Development of the 10-item Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale.” British Journal of Psychiatry, 150,782-876.
Some women may find it hard talking about Perinatal Depression. They may be unsure if they have it or how to discuss it. They may wish to deal with their problem secretly and hope that it goes away on its own.
Some of the symptoms sounded just like me. I knew it was important to talk to my doctor.
When my doctor suggested taking medicine, I wasn’t sure. But it turned out to be the best decision for me. I feel so much better now.
These feelings are more common than one would expect. However, every woman must realize that she is not alone. Perinatal Depression affects thousands of women and can be treated successfully. It is possible to feel better. Here are some things that can help.
In addition, by prioritizing the most important things in your life and letting go of what is least important, you can clear your mind to focus on your own health and well-being.
The symptoms of Perinatal Depression often create a very difficult situation for families. For infants, the effects of Perinatal Depression can be serious. There is a greater chance of babies arriving too small or too early, or having problems in learning and behavior as they grow older. Older children suffer when they lose the attention and support of their mother. Loved ones suffer because they don’t know what to do or how to help. Other family members are often called upon to fill the gap. Because Perinatal Depression affects the entire family, it is critical that family members recognize the symptoms and help their loved one seek help.
Meeting with my support group is the best part of the week. When I found women going through the same things as me, I didn’t feel so lonely any more. Now we are moving forward together, hand in hand.
If you know a woman who has the symptoms of Perinatal Depression, this is how you can help.
As a Spouse or Partner:
As a Friend or Family Member:
There are many excellent resources on Perinatal Depression. At your local public library, you can use the Internet or check out books to get important information. There are telephone hotlines and support services where you can ask questions. Also, your health care provider may have additional resources. The more you understand about Perinatal Depression, the better you will be able to care for yourself and the ones you love.
I recognized the symptoms and took charge. It was not easy, but with support from my family, friends, and doctors, and drawing on my own personal strength, I overcame Perinatal Depression and today I am moving forward. My family is well. My baby is well. And most importantly, I am well.
Postpartum Support International
(not a U.S. Government Web site)
Phone: 800-944-4PPD (800-944-4773)
For information on treatment, support groups and resources in the United States and 25 countries.
Postpartum Education for Parents
(In Spanish: 800-504-7081)
For information on prenatal services in your community.
Substance abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
National Mental Health Information Center Phone: 800-789-2647
For information on depression, including a locator to find a mental health center in your area.
National Women’s Health Information Center
Phone: 800-994-WOMAN (800-994-9662)
Frequently asked questions about depression and pregnancy.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
(not a U.S. Government Web site)
Resources for you and your health care provider.
National Mental Health Association
(not a U.S. Government Web site)
Phone: 800-969-NMHA (800-969-6642)
For information on Perinatal Depression, including a locator to find a mental health center or provider in your area.
The information on this Web site is not a substitute for personal medical advice, attention, diagnosis or treatment. If you have questions or concerns about your health or the health of your baby, consult your health care professional.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Created: November 2006