Types of Depression During & After Pregnancy
Depression during and after pregnancy is typically divided into the following categories: (1) the baby blues (2) perinatal depression (encompassing prenatal and postpartum depression) and (3) postpartum psychosis. In all cases, help is available.
The Baby Blues
Many women have the baby blues in the days after childbirth. In fact, it is estimated that 50% to 80% of all mothers experience "postpartum blues" after birth. For most women, the baby blues is temporary—it's usually gone within a few days and lasting up to 2 weeks after childbirth.
If you have the baby blues, you may:
- Have mood swings
- Feel sad, anxious, or overwhelmed
- Have crying spells
- Lose your appetite
- Have trouble sleeping
The symptoms aren't usually severe, and there are effective ways to handle them:
- Get plenty of sleep. Take naps when your baby does.
- Take the pressure off yourself. You can't do everything by yourself—who can? Do what you can and leave the rest for later or for others to take care of.
- Avoid spending too much time alone.
- Get help and support from your spouse or partner, family members, and friends.
- Join a support group for new mothers.
- Get plenty of exercise.
Perinatal Depression (encompassing prenatal and postpartum depression)
Perinatal depression is a term that includes both prenatal depression (during pregnancy) and postpartum depression (in the first year following childbirth). The symptoms of perinatal depression last longer than "the baby blues" and are more severe. It occurs in about 1 in 5 women.
Pregnant and new mothers who find themselves overwhelmed, frustrated, anxious, persistently teary, or depressed should not be silent or ashamed. Instead, they should talk with their doctors right away and get the support—and in some cases, the treatment—they need.
Symptoms of perinatal depression can range from mild to severe. They can include the same symptoms of the baby blues, but can also include:
- Sleeping too much or not at all
- Lack of joy in life
- Emotional numbness
- Trouble concentrating, remembering things, and making decisions
- Loss of interest in caring for yourself
- Not feeling up to doing everyday tasks
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Loss of sexual interest or responsiveness
- A strong sense of failure or inadequacy
- Severe mood swings
- Showing too much ﴾or not enough﴿ concern for the baby
- High expectations and overly demanding attitude
- Difficulty making sense of things
There are effective treatments for perinatal depression. Most often, treatment will include talk therapy or at times some combination of antidepressant medication, talk therapy, and supportive community resources. Many women do not seek treatment despite their effectiveness. Some are hesitant specifically when considering antidepressant medications out of concern for any health risk they pose to their baby. It is important to discuss any concerns carefully with your doctor.
The same tips for getting through "the baby blues" can also be very helpful in getting through postpartum depression. Whatever steps you and your doctor decide are best, it's important that you stick to your treatment plan for depression. If things are not getting better, don't hesitate to reach out to your doctor or your child's pediatrician.
A very small number of women (1 or 2 in 1,000 women) suffer a rare and severe form of depression called postpartum psychosis. Women who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder or a condition called schizoaffective disorder are at higher risk for getting postpartum psychosis.
The symptoms of postpartum psychosis typically begin during the first 4 weeks after delivery and 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
Postpartum psychosis is temporary and treatable
with professional help, but it is an emergency and requires immediate help