What Is Prepartum Depression?

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What Is Prenatal Depression?

Prenatal depression is depression experienced by women during pregnancy. Like postpartum depression, prenatal (or perinatal) depression isn’t just a feeling of sadness—mothers who experience this mental health disorder may also feel anxious and angry. 

You've likely heard of postpartum depression—and that's a good thing. The more that postpartum depression is talked about and understood, the more mothers will seek the help they need so that they can feel better and live full and healthy lives as new moms.

But prenatal depression is a maternal mood disorder that hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention as it should. While prenatal depression can be treated, many expecting mothers don’t even know that it’s a “thing” and therefore don’t seek treatment for it.

Many feel ashamed to even share how they are feeling. After all, you are supposed to be overjoyed and excited when you are expecting a baby, right? It’s easy to feel guilt and shame when you are feeling the exact opposite.

Here’s what you should know about prenatal depression, including how common it is, what to look for in terms of symptoms, and most importantly, how to get help.

How Common Is Prenatal Depression?

Like postpartum depression, which impacts as many as 1 in 7 new moms, prenatal depression is actually quite common.

According to a journal article by Maria Muzik, MD, and Stefana Borovska, published in Mental Health in Family Medicine, 13% of pregnant moms experience depression.

As the authors note, perinatal depression (both prenatal and postpartum) is even more common among mothers facing adverse experiences, such as a history of depression or economic hardship.

“The prevalence of perinatal depression is even higher in vulnerable groups with certain risk factors,” the authors explain. “Young, single mothers, experiencing complications, with a history of stress, loss or trauma are far more likely to succumb to depression. Furthermore, one study found that up to 51% of women who experience socioeconomic disadvantage also report depressive symptoms during pregnancy.”

It's important to note prenatal depression doesn’t discriminate: You can experience it whether or not you have pre-existing risk factors. Always remember there is no shame in experiencing a serious bout of depression during pregnancy, and you are not alone.

Causes

Similar to postpartum depression, experts can’t pinpoint one particular cause of prenatal depression, but have hypothesized that it’s likely caused by a confluence of factors—a “perfect storm” of triggers that come to a head for some mothers during their pregnancies.

Either way, it’s important to note that whatever caused your prenatal depression, it most certainly wasn’t your fault. There was nothing you did wrong, and you are not a bad mom (or going to be a bad mom).

“Depression and anxiety during pregnancy or after birth don't happen because of something you do or don't do—they are medical conditions,” notes the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP).

“Although we don't fully understand the causes of these conditions, researchers think depression and anxiety during this time may result from a mix of physical, emotional, and environmental factors,” they add.

Symptoms

Prenatal depression manifests differently for every mom—you may even experience it differently from one pregnancy to another. It’s important to understand that anytime you feel overwhelmed by your emotions, unable to function in your day-to-day life, or just “off,” you should reach out to discuss your feelings with a trusted loved one or medical provider.

Here are some of the most common symptoms of prenatal depression:

  • Anxious thoughts and excessive worry about your baby
  • Feeling hopeless and overwhelmed
  • Lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Feeling guilt about how you are feeling, or guilt in general
  • Feeling less interested in eating, or overeating eating
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Racing thoughts
  • Anger
  • Reluctance to follow prenatal health guidelines
  • Not believing others when they try to reassure you
  • Pushing others away, wanting to disconnect from loved ones
  • Participating in unsafe prenatal activities, such as smoking, drinking, drug use
  • Experiencing thoughts of suicide

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911. 

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Risk Factors

Again, almost any mom may experience prenatal depression, regardless of history of depression, socioeconomic status, race, or any other factor.

However, there are some factors that may make you more prone to experiencing prenatal depression, including:

  • Previous history of anxiety or depression
  • Single motherhood
  • An unintended pregnancy
  • History of domestic violence
  • Having less social support
  • Lower socioeconomic status
  • History of smoking
  • Family history of depression
  • Experiencing significant life stressors

Does Prenatal Depression Affect Your Baby?

Mild prenatal depression will not directly affect your baby, but may have some unintended consequences on your pregnancy, which may in turn may affect the health and development of your baby.

For example, if your feelings of depression are making it difficult for you to eat healthfully, attend prenatal appointments with your doctor, or follow healthy guidelines during pregnancy, these might have adverse outcomes on your baby.

If left untreated, severe instances of prenatal depression may affect your ability to gain weight during pregnancy. There is evidence that babies born to moms who experience prenatal depression may have lower birth weights and moms may have increased likelihoods of preterm deliveries. When mothers have moderate to severe perinatal depression, babies can be at risk for sleep issues in their first two years, being diagnosed with a behavioral issue, and other negative consequences.

In addition, women who experience prenatal depression are more likely to experience postpartum depression once their babies are born. Postpartum depression can affect your ability to feel bonded with your baby, and can make your postpartum experience that much more overwhelming and challenging.

Treatment

Perhaps the most important thing to understand about prenatal depression is that treatment is out there, and it is possible to feel better. Probably the biggest reason that women endure prenatal depression for so long is that they don’t seek treatment, don’t know that treatment exists for prenatal depression, or they feel too ashamed to ask for help.

Here are the most common treatment options for prenatal depression.

Therapy

Talk therapy (psychotherapy) is the first treatment option your healthcare provider is likely to suggest for you. These days, many therapists will even see you virtually if getting to an appointment is difficult for you.

Therapy modalities commonly used to treat prenatal depression include cognitive–behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT).

Medication

Sometimes talk therapy needs to be supplemented with medication. The vast majority of medications to treat depression in pregnancy are considered safer than the risk posed by untreated illness. Speak to your health care provider to discuss options that might work for you.

Lifestyle Changes

  • Exercise: Yoga, meditation, light exercise, journaling, and mindfulness exercises can all help you manage your feelings.
  • Support Groups: Finding prenatal depression support groups may be beneficial as well. You can search for such groups through Postpartum Support International. Many online support groups exist as well.
  • Self-Care: Make sure to block out time for yourself. We moms (and moms-to-be) often spend a lot of our time giving to others and we forget that we need to nourish our own selves and spirits. Make sure to take some time for yourself each week. Even an hour or two of partaking in your favorite hobby, or simply reading your favorite novel alone, can work wonders for your mental health.
  • Communication: Talk it out. Besides your therapist and/or support group, having loved ones who you can “vent” to is super important. Seek out the people who will let you share your feelings without judging you, and who care about your emotional well being.

A Word from Verywell

Too often when we are expecting a baby, the focus is on our blossoming belly and all the excitement that is going to await us when our bundle of love arrives. It’s so easy for pregnant moms to kind of get lost in the shuffle.

Not only that, so often the focus is on an expectant mom’s physical health, and not their mental health.

Pregnant moms will often get questions like, “How far along are you?” and “Do you know what you’re having?” But how often are moms asked how they are adjusting emotionally—what their hopes, fears, and concerns are as their bodies, lives, and identities undergo this major transformation?

Your feelings do matter. It’s common for pregnant moms to have a whole host of feelings, and not all of them are sunshine and rainbows. At times, pregnant moms will get lost in these feelings and begin to experience symptoms of prenatal depression.

It’s important to understand that if you are experiencing signs of this syndrome, you are not alone. You are not broken. And help is out there.

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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Muzik M, Borovska S. Perinatal depression: implications for child mental health. Ment Health Fam Med. 2010; 7(4): 239-247.

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