Is Depression Common During and After Pregnancy?
Depression is one of the most common complications during and after pregnancy. Depression is often not recognized or treated because normal pregnancy changes cause depression-like symptoms and the actual depression may be masked. Normal pregnancy symptoms such as tiredness, problems sleeping, and emotional highs and lows occur both during pregnancy and after pregnancy. But these symptoms may also be signs of depression.
Depression involves the body as well as the mind and is not "just another type of hormonal imbalance". Depression can be described as feelings of being sad or unhappy, feeling that you have lost interest in things you once enjoyed, constantly feeling achy, tired, and grouchy, and you may want to sleep all the time to avoid the issues of life going on around you. Most of us feel these ways at one time or another for short periods, but real clinical depression is a mood disorder that interferes with everyday life for an extended time.
Depression that occurs during pregnancy or right after delivery is called perinatal depression while depression after pregnancy is called postpartum depression.
What are Perinatal and Postpartum Depression?
Perinatal depression (depression that occurs during pregnancy or right after delivery) can happen to any woman and it does not mean you are bad, weak, or anything else negative. It does mean you may need help. Depression during pregnancy can raise the risk of delivering an underweight baby or a premature infant. Some depressed birth mothers have difficulty caring for themselves; may have trouble eating gaining enough weight during the pregnancy; have trouble sleeping; may miss prenatal visits; may not follow medical instructions; have a poor diet; or may use harmful substances.
There are many types of individual and group therapies, psychological treatments, and medications that can help a woman with perinatal depression. Pregnancy support groups can also be very helpful and you may find a regular exercise program helpful.
"Baby blues" are a common type of depression that occurs in as many as 80% of new mothers. These "baby blues" are characterized by mood swings, crying, appetite loss, sleep difficulties, and feelings of being irritable, and lonely. The onset these symptoms usually occurs 3-5 days after delivery and normally diminish as hormone levels begin to return to their pre-pregnancy state. The symptoms of "baby blue" are uncomfortable but are usually not long lasting, are not severe, and treatment is not usually required. It can prove very helpful to discuss with the birth father, friends, or family that you are having emotional highs and lows and that these are natural.
The difference between the next type of depression, postpartum depression, and the "baby blues" is that postpartum depression affects a woman's well-being and keeps her from functioning for a significant period of time. If you continue to experience moods swings or feelings of depression for more than 2 weeks after childbirth, the problem may be postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is a serious condition experienced by approximately 1 of every 8 women after delivery. It is the most common complication among women who have recently delivered a child.
The following are several factors that may contribute to the development of postpartum depression: chemical and hormonal changes; broken sleep patterns and not enough rest; feeling overwhelmed and doubting your ability to be a good parent; feeling stress from changes in routines; feelings of loss of identity and loss of control; feeling less attractive; and having less free time and less control over time.
The three most common types of treatment for postpartum depression include: 1) talking to a therapist, psychologist, social worker, or clergy in order to learn to change how depression makes you think, feel, and act; 2) getting assistance from a pregnancy support group or parenting support group; and 3) taking antidepressant medication. Special nutrition, diet and exercise have also been very effective in eliminating some of the effects of depression.
An important note on antidepressant medication: If you are taking an antidepressant and find that you are pregnant, do not stop taking your medication without first talking to your health care provider. Call him/her as soon as you discover that you are pregnant. Additionally, If you ever think about hurting yourself or your baby, contact your health care provider, local hospital emergency room, or dial 911 immediately.
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