Postpartum Depression Can Start in Pregnancy

Lonely and depressed yound pregnant women sitting on the kitchen floor and holding her head.

A study published in the January 2015 issue of The Lancet Psychiatry has found that not all women who suffer from postpartum depression develop it after giving birth, as previously believed. Furthermore, it has found a link between the onset of depressive symptoms and the severity of postpartum depression.

For the majority of women in the study who experienced the most severe type of postpartum depression, symptoms began during pregnancy. Moderately depressed women, on the other hand, were more likely to develop their symptoms after giving birth and were also more likely than severely depressed women to experience pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes, hypertension, and preeclampsia.

The study’s findings raise questions about the potentially differing biological factors involved in mild, moderate, and severe postpartum depression. Where scientists believe that plummeting hormone levels after giving birth might be behind classic postpartum depression, the same cannot be true for depression that develops during gestation. This has direct implications for how to tailor treatments for each type of maternal depression.

“Improved understanding of the differences in clinical presentation of postpartum depression impacts the implementation and interpretation of screening, diagnosis, treatment, and research of perinatal mood disorders,” said Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, the study’s corresponding author, said in a release. “We are now working to apply our findings from this work to future biological and genetic studies of depression in women across the perinatal period.”

While this is excellent news for the future of maternal mental healthcare, you might be wondering what to do if you’re struggling with depression now — whether you’re pregnant, have just given birth, or are in the midst of raising a toddler. The most important thing is to have someone to talk to when you’re feeling sad, anxious, or unsafe with yourself. This could be your postpartum doula, your OBGYN, your partner, a close friend, or a fellow mom. I’ve found the network of new moms in my neighborhood to be a really open and supportive group of women to talk to about anything that’s going on in my life.

If, however, you don’t feel like you can talk to friends or family about what you’re going through, don’t hesitate to seek the services of a professional therapist. Even if you’re not suffering from depression, anxiety, or panic disorder, therapy is a great way to work toward creating positive change in your life. Additionally, depression and other mood disorders sometimes require the use of medication, in which case working with a psychiatrist is essential to finding the right drugs for you.

Whatever your particular circumstances, know that you’re not alone. Up to 70 percent of women report experiencing symptoms of the baby blues after giving birth. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and need someone to talk to, don’t suffer in silence. Call Postpartum Support International‘s hotline at 1-800-944-4PPD.