But armed with an understanding of its causes, symptoms and treatments, things will start looking up before you know it.
For some women, pregnancy and the weeks following the birth of their child are the happiest, most exciting times of their lives. But for others, this magical time is, well, less than magical. For women who battle perinatal depression—depression that occurs during pregnancy (antepartum) or within baby’s first year (post-partum)—these weeks, and even months, can be lonely, sad, confusing and frightening. Certainly though, these women are not alone. In fact, an estimated 10 to 20 percent of pregnant and postpartum women deal with some sort of depression.
Although the causes of depression are debatable, there are a number of factors with speculatory roles. While major hormone shifts and severe sleep deprivation have obvious potential effects, so do elements of family history, stressful life events (such as death or job loss), complications of previous pregnancies, and feelings of identity loss (especially for newly at-home moms).
The disappointment and embarrassment of not being the perfect June Cleaver-caliber mom is enough to prevent depressed moms-to-be and new moms from seeking the help they need. (Plus, the aforementioned hormone changes a mother’s body under goes can create symptoms similar to those of depression, making it hard to decipher between the two.) Identifying and treating depression, whether during or after pregnancy, is incredibly important for both mom and baby’s sake. Not only will the mother feel detached and down, but the baby of a depressed mom often displays similar symptoms of withdrawnness. The sooner help is sought and treatment received, the sooner a blue mama and babe will evolve into the rosy pair they imagined themselves to be.
If you’re experiencing what you feel to be perinatal depression and decide you need help, you might wonder just where exactly you’re supposed to get it. A good place to start is to talk to your partner, mother or best friend and tell her how you’ve been feeling. Sometimes just letting others in on your emotions is enough to make you feel better. Perhaps your husband will bottle-feed your baby at night so you can get the uninterrupted sleep you need, or maybe your mom will watch her grandson while you and your BFF enjoy a girls’ day out—extra sleep and adult socialization can work wonders for the mommy soul.
Depending on the severity of your depression, you may also need to talk to your doctor. Professional talk therapy may be beneficial, or you may require antidepressants. Although the effects of antidepressants on in utero or breastfeeding babies can vary, sometimes the risks are outweighed by the incredible benefit. Certain antidepressants are considered safer than others during pregnancy, so be sure to talk with your physician about which might be the best choice for you and your baby.
Perinatal depression is nothing to be ashamed of, and will not last forever—especially with proper treatment. Although it’s not always preventable, there are steps you can take to help ward off the blues. While you’re pregnant, make time to do the non-baby things that you did before baby-growing became your full-time job: get a pedicure, attend a sporting event or hit the flea market on Saturday afternoon. Once baby arrives, continue to get out of the house. Whether you hire a babysitter so you can attend a concert or go for an afternoon stroll downtown with baby in tow, leave the house and maintain interaction with others. You’ll feel saner for doing so, and your baby will benefit from a refreshed mommy.