Mental Health Pregnancy Women's Health & Pregnancy

Defining Maternal Depression

Typically, women experience joy and the anticipation of motherhood during pregnancy. But for some women, pregnancy can bring on depression.

This condition, known as perinatal depression or maternal depression, differs slightly from post-partum depression, though the two are related. Both conditions are brought on by the normal hormonal changes associated with pregnancy.  Postpartum depression is often more sudden, due to the intense hormonal changes that happen almost immediately after a baby is born. Depression in pregnancy is often more subtle and arises more slowly. A woman who has a preexisting tendency toward depression is at a higher risk of developing maternal depression. Preexisting tendencies include having a history of depression or other mood disorders such as anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. However, maternal depression and postpartum depression can happen to any woman, even without any history of mood disorder.

What are the signs and symptoms of maternal depression?

“Every one of my patients is screened during and after pregnancy using a validated depression screen,” explains Steward Health Care OB-GYN Felicia Katz, MD, a member of Steward Medical Group. “The questions provided on the screening and a patient’s response help us determine if a woman is struggling with depression.”

Maternal depression symptoms Dr. Katz looks for in her patients include:

  • A loss of enjoyment in things
  • Trouble concentrating and having a hard time focusing
  • Changes in appetite – not being hungry or being overly hungry
  • Overall mood changes – feeling down or sad, crying frequently
  • Having feelings of harm toward oneself or others

“Luckily, more and more people are becoming aware of maternal depression. But we still see women hide their depression as they feel guilty, especially with the societal norms placed on pregnancy as ‘being a happy time,’” she says. “Women need to know it’s okay to seek treatment and doctors can do a lot to help them.”

Maternal depression is treated with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as well as group therapy. Medication may also be used as there is a wide range of antidepressants that are safe for a woman during pregnancy and afterward.

“The individual woman’s situation will determine which of these two pathways of treatment we’ll use,” says Dr. Katz. “Using an antidepressant can provide great benefits that outweigh the risks. Some women do very well with CBT or group therapy, which helps them see others experiencing the same feelings, which can reduce their sense of isolation and gives them a sense of empowerment.”

Do women who experience maternal depression have a higher risk of developing postpartum depression after they deliver?

“Yes, one of the biggest risk factors for postpartum depression is having maternal depression during pregnancy,” Dr. Katz explains. “As practitioners, we watch these patients closely and counsel the patient and family members to keep an eye out for worsening symptoms.”

If you think you might have depression during pregnancy, talk to your health care provider immediately about how you’re feeling and work with him or her to determine the next best steps for you.

To find a doctor or schedule an appointment, visit Steward DoctorFinder™.

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