Pregnancy and Depression

Although many people consider pregnancy a time of happiness, about 10% to 20% of moms-to-be struggle with symptoms of depression.

Risk Factors

  • Having a history of depression or PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder)
  • Age at time of pregnancy; the younger you are, the higher the risk.
  • Living alone or having limited familial support
  • Limited social support
  • Marital conflict or domestic violence
  • Uncertainty about the pregnancy

Effects

Hormonal changes or stress can make depression symptoms worse or make them return. Pregnancy symptoms such as morning sickness, fatigue, and mood swings can also contribute.

Depression can get in the way of being able to care for yourself during your pregnancy. You may be less able to follow medical recommendations, as well as sleep and eat properly.

The condition can also make you more likely to use tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs that can harm you and your developing baby.

Some studies suggest that depression during pregnancy may increase the risk for pre-term delivery and low infant birth weight. However, there are experts who debate this.

Depression may interfere with your ability to bond with your growing baby, too. Being depressed during pregnancy can place you at greater risk for having an episode of depression after delivery (postpartum depression).

Take Care of Yourself

Preparing for a new baby is a lot of hard work, but your health should come first. So resist the urge to get everything done: Cut down on your chores, and do things that will help you to relax. Taking care of yourself is a key part of taking care of your unborn child.

Open up to your partner, your family, or your friends about what concerns you. If you ask for support, you'll find that you often get it.

Your OB-GYN or regular doctor may screen you for depression at a routine office visit. They can ask you a series of questions to check your risk for depression and can offer treatment if necessary.

Medication and Treatment

Studies on the effect of antidepressant medicines on your growing baby suggest they are safe for treating depression during pregnancy. However, there may be a very small risk of birth defects that include fetal heart and skull abnormalities with the use of SSRI antidepressants, which include fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft) early in a pregnancy.  But remember that not treating depression may be more risky than taking medication.

Talk to your doctor about the possible risks and benefits of antidepressants. They can work with you to manage your symptoms and develop a treatment plan. They can also refer you to a mental health specialist, if you need it.

Continued

When to Talk to Your Doctor

  • You find out you’re pregnant and you're taking antidepressants or other medications.
  • You have a history of depression and are worried about depression during or after pregnancy.
  • You have symptoms of depression.
  • You have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.

Step-by-Step Care

  • Get support from your partner, family, and friends.
  • Tell your doctor. Ask for help.
  • Eat well. Depression can rob you of your appetite, but your baby still needs nourishment.
  • Get some exercise. A walk or swimming can help improve your mood and is good for your baby.
  • Don’t suddenly stop taking antidepressants. Talk to your doctor first.
  • Consider counseling or joining a support group. 
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on May 29, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

American Pregnancy Association.

“Recommendations for Screening Depression in Adults.” Journal of the American Medical Association, January 26, 2016.

Reefhuis, J. BMJ, 2015.

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Your Pregnancy and Childbirth, Month to Month. 5th edition. 2010.

March of Dimes: "Pregnancy Complications: Depression."

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Depression during and after pregnancy fact sheet."

 

 

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