Perinatal depression: how to deal with it?

Intense feelings of sadness, listlessness, and hopelessness during pregnancy or postpartum may be indicative of perinatal depression. We show you how to identify and address it.

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz on November 15, 2021.

Last update: November 15, 2021

Becoming a mother can be a challenging process. The body changes, routines and priorities change, identity is transformed to organize itself around the new role. All of these physical and emotional demands can be overwhelming.. Identifying perinatal depression is essential to ensure the well-being of the mother and the child.

Generally, people are aware of the existence of postpartum depression as a clinical entity that occurs after giving birth. However, it is possible that these feelings of sadness, anguish and hopelessness appear already during pregnancy.

It is important to take the signs and seek professional help from the moment suspicions arise, because this depressive state has serious consequences. We tell you more about it.

What is perinatal depression?

Perinatal depression is a mood disorder that occurs during pregnancy or in the first year after delivery. Thus, it encompasses both prenatal depression and postpartum depression. It is a clinical entity that is serious and goes beyond melancholy (baby blues) that many women experience in the first few weeks after giving birth.

Perinatal depression is characterized by deep and recurring sadness that is accompanied by apathy, lack of interest, and the inability to experience pleasure. But in addition, it presents another series of symptoms:

  • Feeling of emptiness, helplessness or hopelessness.
  • Concern for one’s own performance as a mother and feelings of guilt.
  • Restlessness, concentration difficulties and memory problems.
  • Alterations in sleep and appetite.
  • Psychosomatic aches and pains (not explained by an organic cause).
  • Abandonment of self-care and social isolation.
  • In severe cases, thoughts about hurting yourself or the baby.
Perinatal depression is a concept that includes the possibility of postpartum depression, but also that which begins during pregnancy.

What are your causes?

It is not possible to define a single reason that accounts for the appearance of perinatal depression. It is a combination of genetic, environmental and personal factors. Thus, those women who have their own or family history of mood disorders are at greater risk of suffering from it.

Secondly, the physical and hormonal alterations typical of pregnancy and postpartum can contribute to its appearance. And it is that, in addition to emotional lability, certain diseases that can arise during pregnancy (diabetes, anemia or thyroid disorders) contribute to increasing symptoms.

At the psychosocial level, women who are experiencing an unwanted pregnancy, who have socioeconomic, family or relationship problems, as well as those who do not receive sufficient social support from their environment, are more likely to suffer from perinatal depression.

Definitely, no woman is exempt from experiencing this condition and its appearance will depend, to a large extent, on the resources that the mother has to manage the changes and demands of this stage.

Identifying perinatal depression early is essential

Just like him baby blues usually goes away in a few weeks on its own, in the case of depression this does not occur. If the woman does not receive treatment, the disorder tends to perpetuate itself, generating serious consequences.

The mother will live the gestation or postpartum period with great anguish and suffering, will run a greater risk of falling into substance use and other harmful behaviors and will have great difficulties in bonding emotionally with her baby.

On your side, the fetus also suffers the consequences of the maternal state of mind. Perinatal depression can lead to premature births, low birth weight, and delayed development of the child during his early years.

In addition, it has been observed that those adolescents whose mothers suffered perinatal depression have a 4.7 times greater risk of being depressed at 16 years of age.

But not only the mother and the child are affected by this disorder; the repercussions can extend to the entire surrounding environment. The couple’s relationship is damaged and, if there are other children, these may suffer from the mother’s difficulties in caring for them properly.

Relationships are affected when the mother suffers from perinatal depression.

Possible treatments for perinatal depression

To address perinatal depression there are both pharmacological and psychological options. The former are considered when the depression is severe or the woman does not respond to other interventions, since there are certain risks to the fetus.

Still, SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) appear to be an effective and relatively safe alternative.

On your side, psychotherapy is an excellent alternative that can be implemented at any time during pregnancy and offer good results. Specifically, cognitive-behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy have the most scientific support. They help women restructure their thoughts, interpretations, and behaviors.

In short, given the great risks associated with untreated perinatal depression, it is essential to put yourself in the hands of professionals. If you feel identified with the above, ask for help.

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