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Perinatal Depression: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

Perinatal Depression: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

Learn more about the dangers of perinatal depression and how it can impact both mother and child. It’s crucial to get help if you are suffering from prenatal depression, as it can have long-term consequences. There is no shame in seeking out help – this is a serious condition that requires treatment.

Perinatal depression is a serious condition that can have a negative impact on both the mother and her child. It may also impact the mother’s ability to respond to her baby, which can then impact their relationship and cause attachment issues. Some mothers struggle to express these concerns or may feel unable to voice them due to stigma, guilt or shame.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of perinatal depression, it’s important to seek help from your healthcare provider or a mental health professional. Treatment can involve a combination of medication and counseling, and can be effective in treating this condition.

What is perinatal depression?

Perinatal depression is a mood disorder affecting women during pregnancy and after childbirth. The word “perinatal” refers to the time before and after the birth of a child. It’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of this condition so that you can get the help you need if you’re experiencing it.

Is it the same as perinatal distress?

Perinatal distress is an umbrella term used to describe symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress that women may experience from conception to up to one year following birth. It may also include those who have suffered miscarriage, stillbirths, terminations, and babies born with disabilities.

How is it diagnosed?

Perinatal depression, perinatal distress and postnatal depression all use a 10-item questionnaire called the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) as a diagnostic tool. Those who score 13 or higher are flagged for possible perinatal depression. The Antenatal Risk Questionnaire (ANRQ) is also used to help predict those who may be susceptible to perinatal depression.

In a study of 35 women, researchers concluded that prenatal ANRQ scores, Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) scores, and EPDS scores were significantly correlated with EPDS scores at 6 weeks postpartum. 

Perinatal vs Antenatal vs Postnatal Depression

Antenatal depression is a type of depression that can occur in the time before giving birth. Postnatal depression, on the other hand, is a type of depression that can occur after giving birth. Perinatal is simply the combined term for both stages.

It’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of both conditions so that you can get the help you need if you’re experiencing either one.

Signs and symptoms of perinatal depression

Symptoms may vary based on a woman’s current circumstances and medical history. There are a number of signs and symptoms that may be present in women who are experiencing perinatal depression. These can include:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or overwhelmed most of the time
  • Low motivation or enjoyment in life
  • Feeling restless or irritable
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Social Isolation
  • Excessive worrying about baby’s health
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek help from your healthcare provider or a mental health professional.

Causes of perinatal depression

There is no single cause of perinatal depression. Rather, it is thought to be the result of a combination of physical, psychological, and social factors. Some of the things that may contribute to the development of perinatal depression include:

  • Hormonal changes during pregnancy and after childbirth
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Stressful life events (such as a death in the family or financial problems)
  • A history of depression or other mental health disorders
  • A lack of social support

Risk factors for perinatal depression

There are a number of things that may increase your risk of developing perinatal depression. These include:

  • Having a history of depression or other mental health disorders
  • Experiencing stressful life events during pregnancy or after childbirth
  • Having a baby with health problems
  • Being a teenage mother
  • Being unmarried or in a relationship that is not supportive
  • Having financial problems
  • Suffering from postpartum blues

Does perinatal depression affect the baby?

Perinatal depression has been associated with poorer outcomes, including challenges for the mother, child and family unit. Infants and young children of mothers suffering perinatal depression are more likely to have a difficult temperament, as well as cognitive and emotional delays.

Treating perinatal depression

If you’re experiencing perinatal depression, it’s important to seek help. Treatment can involve a combination of medication and counseling. Medications that are commonly used to treat depression, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can be effective in treating perinatal depression.

Counseling can also be helpful in treating this condition. Therapies that may be used include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy, and problem-solving therapy.

Perinatal depression is a serious condition that can have a negative impact on both the mother and her child. However, it is treatable. If you’re experiencing any of the signs or symptoms of perinatal depression, don’t hesitate to seek help from your healthcare provider or a mental health professional.

What can you do to help treat perinatal depression at home?

When struggling with perinatal depression, it is important to speak to a healthcare provider to be sure you are getting the best help you can. However, there is much you can do for yourself, as well.

Work on increasing your support network as much as possible, whether that be asking for help from family and friends or joining a local mom group to have play dates or nights out.

Practicing good self-care strategies including the use of affirmations or goal-setting can motivate some women, but it isn’t always possible.

Ask your doctor or midwife for written information and contact details to an early childhood center or other appropriate services.

If you are active in a religion or other spiritual group, reach out for help from a minister or women’s group run by the church.

There are many ways to help treat perinatal depression, and it is important to seek out the ones that work best for you.

When is the risk greatest for perinatal suicide?

Suicide is a leading cause of death in perinatal women, but suicide during pregnancy or the postpartum period is too often underreported and under-researched. Providers are still learning how to best identify and treat those women at greatest risk of suicide in the perinatal period.

According to a 15-year population based study, between 9 – 12 months postpartum is when most perinatal suicides occur. Women who completed perinatal suicide were more likely to do so by methods such as hanging, jumping, or falling, compared to women who completed suicide outside of the perinatal period. 

Only 39.2% of women had mental health contact within the 30 days before death. This is more indication that speaking with a healthcare provider is imperative if you are suffering from perinatal mental health issues.

References:

Ruyak SL, & Qeadan F (2018). Use of the Antenatal Risk Questionnaire to Assess Psychosocial Risk Factors Associated with Risk for Postpartum Depression: A Pilot Study. JMidwifery! Womens Health, doi: 10.1111/jmwh.12873 [PMC free article]

Grigoriadis S, Wilton AS, Kurdyak PA, Rhodes AE, VonderPorten EH, Levitt A, Cheung A, Vigod SN (2017). Perinatal suicide in Ontario, Canada: a 15-year population-based study. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.170088 [PMC free article]

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