Perinatal (pregnancy and postpartum) depression: Frequently asked questions

What are the primary symptoms of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders?

  • Sadness and/low mood
  • Loss of interest in everyday activities or activities that you used to enjoy
  • Irritability or anger
  • Crying or tearfulness
  • Weight and/or appetite changes
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Fatigue/loss of energy
  • Loss of focus, distractability, or memory issues
  • Sense of worthlessness, guilt, or hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts or wishing to "escape"

In the case of traumatic labor or delivery experiences:

  • Re-experiencing of the trauma
  • Avoidance of things that remind you of the trauma
  • Increased arousal
  • Sense of detachment
  • In the case of bipolar mood disorder:
    • Alternate phases of high and low mood

What is antenatal depression?

Antenatal depression is a long-lasting sadness that occurs during approximately 10 percent of pregnancies.

Women with antenatal depression may have concerns over their ability to be a good mother, over the disruptions and changes to their lives and their relationships, and over the physical changes their bodies are going through. Women who have given birth before and are experiencing antenatal depression may also worry a great deal about their ability to love and/or care for additional children.

The problems don't necessarily disappear once the baby is born. Women who experience antenatal depression may be more susceptible to postpartum depression.

What is postpartum depression?

Postpartum depression is a long-lasting sadness that affects approximately 15 percent of new mothers within a year after giving birth. It happens to all types of mothers, regardless of age, race, or background.

Symptoms last longer than two weeks. In addition, women with postpartum depression may have thoughts of hurting their baby, feelings that they cannot adequately care for or protect their baby, and guilt over being unhappy during what they believe should be a happy time in their lives. Women with postpartum depression often have difficulty caring for themselves and their babies. They may even feel like no one else has felt what they feel, and no one will be able to help them.

What are the most effective treatments for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders?

Mood and anxiety disorders occurring during the perinatal period are often successfully treated with medication and/or psychotherapy. Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications may be used. Physicians and their patients can work to select medications that minimize harmful effects to the fetus or breastfeeding newborns. Psychotherapy/counseling has also been shown to a highly effective treatment. Research has demonstrated that a combination of these two forms of treatment often has the greatest positive impact on perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

What is interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT)?

Interpersonal psychotherapy (or IPT) is a type of therapy or counseling that focuses on a person's social network: their family, friends, co-workers, etc. When IPT is used for depression in pregnant women or women who have just had babies, the therapist and client work to determine how the social network has contributed to the problem, and how it can be used to solve the problem.

IPT usually lasts for 10 to 12 sessions. It has been found to be as effective as medication for the treatment of antenatal and postpartum depression, and may be preferable since many pregnant and breastfeeding women do not want to take drugs that may affect their baby.

Last reviewed: 
March 2018

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