Having a baby should be a happy time, right? So why are you feeling blue?

Depression experienced by mothers during or after pregnancy is a common condition.
Depression experienced by mothers during or after pregnancy is a common condition. McClatchy-Tribune

Some call it the “baby blues.” Others refer to it as “antepartum” or “postpartum” depression.

Whatever the name, depression experienced during or after pregnancy is a common condition. Up to 20 percent of women struggle with depression during pregnancy. As many as 85 percent of new moms experience some form of postpartum mood change.

It can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, education, marital status or socioeconomic status. When recognized and treated, however, maternal and child health outcomes can be improved for years to come.

20 Percent of women struggle with depression during pregnancy.

85 percent of new moms experience some form of postpartum mood change.

What Causes Depression?

The body’s hormone levels change dramatically during pregnancy. This can affect the chemical balances in the brain. Right after delivery, levels of progesterone and estrogen in the body drop significantly. Any of these hormonal changes can affect brain chemistry and lead to depression and anxiety. Stressful life events or a history of depression can further increase the risk of depression during or after pregnancy.

For many new moms, symptoms of postpartum depression will fade within two weeks after delivery. For 10 to 15 percent of women, especially those with a history of depression or a bipolar condition, symptoms may appear later, will be longer-lasting and will require treatment.

Still others may develop postpartum psychosis, which is a severe form of postpartum depression and a serious health issue. It is rare, but its symptoms are dramatic. Symptoms of postpartum psychosis usually appear from the first three days to two weeks after delivery.

10 to 15 Percent of women will have depression that lasts beyond two weeks after a child’s birth and will require treatment.

What’s the Risk?

We are learning more about how depression during and after pregnancy can affect child development.

A depressed mom-to-be is less likely to get the prenatal care that is critical to healthy fetal development. She also may be more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol that can harm her baby.

We know that pregnant women with untreated depression are more likely to deliver low-birth weight or premature babies. Depressed or anxious moms also may be at higher risk of complications late in pregnancy or during delivery.

15 millionChildren in the United States live with a parent struggling with depression.

We also are learning that depression can be transmitted. Untreated depression during pregnancy can affect the development of the fetal brain. It especially can impact the areas of the brain that are linked to mood and anxiety disorders. Children born to mothers experiencing depression can develop behavior problems, sleep concerns, poor growth and an increased risk of accidents.

Children who grow up in a home with a depressed parent also can face serious developmental challenges. It is estimated that up to 15 million children in the United States live with a parent struggling with depression. Families living in poverty are disproportionately affected by untreated depression.

Living with a parent experiencing depression can affect a child’s emotional development, sleep patterns and school readiness. New research also links maternal depression to a reduction in a child’s ability to be empathetic to others. In extreme conditions, a child is placed at increased risk of abuse and neglect.

How to Tell If You Need Help

If you experience symptoms of depression for two weeks or more or if your symptoms interfere with your ability to function, see your health care provider immediately.

Symptoms of depression include:

▪  Feelings of sadness, anger, worthlessness, guilt or incompetence;

▪  Mood swings, anxiety or irritability;

▪  Loss of interest in everyday activities;

▪  Fatigue;

▪  Disrupted sleep;

▪  Changes in appetite;

▪  Inability to concentrate;

▪  Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.

Caring for your baby starts with self-care. If you feel that you need help, talk to your health care provider. With reforms to health insurance brought about by the Affordable Care Act, mental health services are considered an “essential health benefit” and should be covered by your health insurance. If you lack access to health insurance, other resources may be available in our community to get you the help you need.

Dealing with depression starts by recognizing that it is a common and treatable health concern. Then start the conversation.

By Dr. Aaron Moore in a psychiatrist at Unity Care NW.