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.
You are not alone.
Help is near.
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
Perinatal Depression – It’s More Than the Baby Blues
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.
What Causes Perinatal Depression?
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.
Who Is at Risk?
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.
Types of 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.
Depression During and After Pregnancy
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:
- Sad feelings
- Feeling very anxious or worrying too much
- Being irritable or cranky
- Trouble sleeping (even when tired) or sleeping too much
- Trouble concentrating or remembering things
- Trouble making decisions
- Loss of interest in caring for yourself (for example, dressing, bathing, fixing hair)
- Loss of interest in food, or overeating
- Not feeling up to doing everyday tasks
- Frequent crying, even about little things
- Showing too much (or not enough) concern for the baby
- Loss of pleasure or interest in things you used to enjoy (including sex)
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:
- Extreme confusion
- Cannot sleep (even when exhausted)
- Refusing to eat
- Distrusting other people
- Seeing things or hearing voices that are not there
- Thoughts of hurting yourself, your baby, or others
If you or someone you know fits this description, please seek medical help immediately. This is a medical emergency requiring URGENT care.
How Do I Know if I Have Perinatal Depression?
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 —
- I have been unable to laugh and see the funny side of things.
- I have not looked forward to things I usually enjoy.
- I have blamed myself unnecessarily when things went wrong.
- I have been anxious or worried for no good reason.
- I have felt scared or panicky for no good reason.
- Things have been getting the best of me.
- I have been so unhappy that I have had difficulty sleeping.
- I have felt sad or miserable.
- I have been so unhappy that I have been crying.
- The thought of harming myself, my baby, or others has occurred to me.
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.
If I Have Perinatal Depression, What Can I Do?
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.
Lean on Family and Friends
There are many ways that family and friends can help you. A few hours of weekly child care can give you a much-needed break. Get help cleaning the house or running errands. When you share your feelings openly with friends and family, it allows them to provide the important support that you need.
Talk to a Health Care Professional
Screening for Perinatal Depression should be a routine part of your health care during and after pregnancy. Health care professionals— such as your doctor, your baby’s doctor, a nurse, or other health care provider—are familiar with Perinatal Depression. They know ways to help, and can explain your options to you. An easy way to raise the subject is to bring this booklet with you to the provider’s office. Show the items that you checked and discuss them. Say that you were reading the booklet and some of it sounds familiar to you. If you feel that your provider does not understand what you are going through, please do not give up. There are many excellent providers who do understand Perinatal Depression, who are ready to listen to you, and who can put you on the road to recovery.
Find a Support Group
Although you may not know it, there are probably other women in your community suffering from Perinatal Depression. Finding them can give you a chance to learn from others and to share your own feelings. Ask your health care professional how to find and join a support group.
Talk to a Mental Health Care Professional
Many mental health professionals have special training to help women with Perinatal Depression. They can give you a safe place to express your feelings and help you find the best ways to manage and even get rid of your symptoms. When choosing counselors or other professionals, ask if they have experience in treating Perinatal Depression. They have helped other women with depression and they can help you too!
Focus on Wellness
An important step toward treating Perinatal Depression is taking care of your body. A healthy diet combined with exercise can help you gain your lost energy and feel strong. Consider these suggestions:
- Eat breakfast in the morning to start your day right.
- Eat a variety of foods from all food groups, including two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables each day.
- Choose healthy snacks like non-fat milk, yogurt, fruit, and nuts.
- Avoid alcohol use.
- Invite your friends to go on walks in your neighborhood or to the park.
- Try a new activity, such as swimming or biking.
- Take time to stretch and strengthen your muscles.
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.
Take Medication as Recommended by Your Health Care Provider
Sometimes medications are necessary in the treatment of depression. As with any medications or medical treatment, you should talk to your health care provider about which medication, if any, may be best for you. Become an educated consumer and find out information about treatment options.
How Can Perinatal Depression Affect My Baby and My Family?
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.
Advice for Fathers, Family, and Friends
If you know a woman who has the symptoms of Perinatal Depression, this is how you can help.
As a Spouse or Partner:
- Encourage her to seek help. This is the quickest path to recovery.
- Offer support and encouragement. Your positive actions and words can reduce some of her suffering.
- Listen. Her feelings are real. Let her express them to you.
- Allow her to focus on her own needs. Physical and social activities help women suffering from Perinatal Depression feel stronger, more relaxed, and better about themselves.
- Take time for yourself. It is important for spouses and partners to continue with their work, hobbies, and outside relationships.
As a Friend or Family Member:
- Ask the mother how you can help, including baby-sitting and house cleaning.
- Let her know you are there for her, even if she doesn’t like talking.
- Understand that the father may also feel stressed from the changes that come with being a new father or by a partner who is suffering from Perinatal Depression.
Where Can I Get More Information?
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.
Where Help is Available
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