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Preventing Perinatal Depression

Pregnancy and the birth of a new baby are among life’s most joyous moments, but, for many new mothers and mothers-to-be, these moments can be darkened by depression.

Perinatal depression, the occurrence of a depressive disorder in a mother during pregnancy or in the 12 months following her baby’s delivery, is one of the most common complications during pregnancy and after childbirth. When perinatal depression goes untreated, it can adversely affect both mother and baby.

Fortunately, perinatal depression can be successfully treated. And, according to a recent recommendation by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the development of perinatal depression may even be preventable with appropriate counseling interventions. Preventing perinatal depression in women at increased risk helps growing families get the best possible start.

Who Is at Risk for Perinatal Depression?

Any woman can develop depression during her pregnancy or during the 12 months after delivery (postpartum depression). However, certain factors can increase a woman’s risk for perinatal depression, including:

  • Personal or family history of depression

  • Anxiety

  • Young age

  • History of sexual or physical abuse

  • Domestic abuse

  • Life stress

  • Limited financial or social support

  • Unintended pregnancy

Women who experience depression and anxiety during pregnancy are more likely to experience postpartum depression. New mothers who have experienced a traumatic birth, have given birth to a preterm infant or an infant who needed care in the neonatal intensive care unit, or have had breastfeeding difficulties are also at greater risk for postpartum depression.

Our Postpartum Care Box is a great teaching tool to spark discussion
about postpartum depression and other postpartum concerns.

How Can Untreated Perinatal Depression Affect Mothers and Babies?

A woman who experiences depression that goes untreated during pregnancy may feel hopeless, overwhelmed, sad, moody, worthless, or guilty. She may even have thoughts about death or suicide. A woman with untreated depression may not take proper care of herself during her pregnancy. She may not eat enough healthy foods, get adequate prenatal care, or gain enough weight, and she may smoke or abuse alcohol or other drugs.

A baby born to a mother with untreated depression is at risk for being premature or having a low birthweight. After her baby’s birth, a mother with postpartum depression may feel detached and have trouble bonding with her baby. She may have thoughts or fears of harming herself or her baby. Her baby may be more irritable, have fewer facial expressions, and develop skills later than a baby born to a mother who does not have postpartum depression.

Our Understanding Postpartum Depression Tear Pad
provides valuable take-home information for new parents.

The good news is that perinatal depression can be effectively treated. Treatment methods may include counseling, support groups, and medication. Women who are pregnant or who are planning to become pregnant and think they might have depression should talk to their healthcare professional.

How Can Perinatal Depression Be Prevented?

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is a leading organization of doctors and other experts on disease that makes recommendations about preventive care. In February, the USPSTF issued a recommendation that women who are at increased risk for depression during pregnancy or the postpartum period should receive counseling to help prevent it. Healthcare professionals should either provide appropriate counseling to women at increased risk for perinatal depression or refer them for appropriate preventive counseling.

Our Postpartum: Things to Keep in Mind After Giving Birth Pamphlet
helps new mothers understand postpartum issues, including postpartum depression.

According to the USPSTF’s findings, counseling interventions, such as interpersonal therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, can help prevent perinatal depression in women who are at increased risk for developing it. Interpersonal therapy uses role-playing activities and focuses on communication and decision making to help women handle the stress and relationship changes that come with pregnancy and a new baby. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps women manage their thoughts and feelings in a positive way.

The USPSTF’s new recommendation is an important step in helping to prevent the complications of perinatal depression, leading to healthier mothers, babies, and families.

Learn More

To learn more about perinatal depression and how to treat and possibly prevent its development, talk to your healthcare professional.

For more information about our postpartum educational resources, which are great teaching tools to help patients and clients understand more about perinatal depression and the importance of seeking help, please visit our Postpartum Section.

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