Whether you are a first-time mother or have already had one or more pregnancies, perinatal depression is something that might affect you. For this reason, it’s important to know what it is, what its signs and symptoms are, and how to treat it in a timely and effective way. To learn more about this all-important topic, keep reading this comprehensive guide to perinatal depression.
What is perinatal depression?
The expression “perinatal depression” refers to a type of mood disorder (depression) that occurs either during pregnancy or in the first few months following the baby’s birth. Perinatal depression, therefore, includes types of depression taking place both in the antenatal and postnatal periods.
While the symptoms of perinatal depression can vary in terms of number and severity, it’s always crucial to intervene before they escalate. Unaddressed perinatal depression, in fact, can put the safety of both mum and baby at risk.
Difference between baby blues and postpartum depression
Sometimes, you might hear the terms “baby blues” and “postpartum depression” used almost interchangeably. It’s important, though, to clarify that these two conditions are not the same.
The so-called “baby blues” describes much milder mood changes and feelings of extreme worry, tiredness, and overwhelm that many new mums experience. These are mostly related to the major hormonal changes that your body and mind are going through in the early postpartum period, and they usually resolve themselves in the first two weeks after having a baby.
When these feelings do not disappear or, even worse, they intensify over time, it might mean that a woman is suffering from postpartum depression.
Another mental health disorder that affects some women in the postnatal period is postpartum psychosis. This is a very severe mental illness that manifests itself soon after the baby’s birth and causes a new mum to experience serious and debilitating symptoms. Such symptoms include hallucinations, confusion, paranoia, mania, and delusions.
When a woman begins experiencing any of these symptoms, the help of a medical professional is required. This is because women with a diagnosis of postpartum psychosis are at a much higher risk of harming either themselves or their baby.
Causes of perinatal depression
Just like with more generic types of depression, perinatal depression can have a wide range of causes. Some of the most common include the following:
- A genetic predisposition to suffer from mental health illness
- Environmental factors such as prior birth trauma, pregnancy loss, work-related stress, or lifestyle
- Hormonal changes
- Physical and emotional demands of looking after a newborn baby
- A previous diagnosis of perinatal depression during or after a previous pregnancy
Symptoms and signs
There are different types and degrees of severity when it comes to the symptoms of perinatal depression, and not every woman will display every single one of them, or with the same intensity.
The most common, however, are:
- Feelings of extreme physical fatigue
- Feelings of “mental fog”, confusion, and difficulty concentrating
- Constant feelings of deep sadness and anxiety
- Feelings of guilt, overwhelm, and hopelessness
- Thoughts about physical harm, death of the baby, or suicide
- Physical signs such as stomach problems, persistent headaches, and trouble sleeping
- Difficulty with or refusal to bond with the new baby
- Lack of or complete loss of interest in hobbies and activities
- Lack of or complete loss of interest in looking after themselves, their baby, or both
Prevention and treatment
Preventing the onset of perinatal depression is possible, but it requires a consistent commitment both from the expectant or new mum and from her support network, which can be formed by family, friends, co-workers, and medical professionals. Below are some great ways to enjoy pregnancy and ward off the insurgence of depression in the prenatal or postnatal periods:
- Early intervention: Whenever any potential signs of perinatal depression arise, it’s vital to intervene straight away in order to treat them effectively.
- Practicing self-love and self-care: This means following simple, everyday practices such as meditation, gentle exercise, a healthy and varied diet, and the maintenance of good personal hygiene during pregnancy.
- Practicing activities that release the hormone oxytocin especially straight after the baby is born. These include, for example, a feeding or a skin-to-skin session. To reap even more benefits and enjoy these moments at best, it can help to create a serene, comforting, and relaxing environment, with relaxing music, a delicately-scented candle, and a comfortable chair to rest on.
If perinatal depression occurs, it’s essential to seek the right treatment for it. Read below to learn more about the available treatments for perinatal depression.
Psychotherapy (sometimes also referred to as either “counselling” or “talking therapy”) can help women suffering from perinatal depression. In particular, two approaches are very effective – cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT).
CBT aims to teach people different and more empowering ways of thinking and behaving. It’s a very hands-on type of therapy that challenges a person’s limiting beliefs and negative patterns of thinking and behaving. As a result, it can help to ease or remove feelings of anxiety and depression.
This is another evidence-based approach to psychotherapy that is widely used to treat depression in all its forms. The focus of IPT is on improving a person’s communication skills, strengthening their support network, and developing more realistic expectations around themselves, others, and life in general.
Support from family and friends
Another very important source of support comes from the sufferer’s family and friends. These people can play a crucial role in both helping a new mum seek treatment and relieving some of her feelings of depression by offering love, care, and support.
Are you a close friend or family member of an expectant mum? Showering her with love, care, and thoughtful gifts can help her feel better both during and after pregnancy.
What perinatal mental illness is the most common?
According to research, the most common perinatal mental illnesses are perinatal anxiety, perinatal depression, and perinatal obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
What does perinatal distress mean?
Perinatal distress is an expression that indicates a range of symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression that occur in women either during or soon after pregnancy. Pregnancy loss due to miscarriages, terminations, stillbirths, or other reasons is also included in perinatal distress.