What Is Peripartum Depression, and Are There Any Safe Treatment Options?

Are you expecting? Or maybe you’ve just delivered your little bundle of joy? Either way, congratulations!

Parenthood is an amazing journey. But for all women, the pregnancy and postpartum period is a crucial time to prioritize mental health. Of all medical complications affecting women during pregnancy and after birth, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are the most common. In California, one in five women suffers from depression, anxiety or both while pregnant or after giving birth.

Peripartum depression is a form of clinical depression that can occur during pregnancy or in the weeks or months after delivery, fifty percent of postpartum major depressive episodes actually begin prior to delivery. Peripartum depression is more than the “baby blues,” which are relatively common and tend to subside quickly. Peripartum depression can have a profound impact on your day-to-day life and ability to function.

If you’re struggling with peripartum depression, you’re not alone. And there are things you can do to get better. In this article, we’ll take a look at what peripartum depression is, what causes it, and what you can do to start feeling like yourself again.

What is Peripartum Depression?

Clinically speaking, peripartum depression is a subtype of major depressive disorder that is characterized by onset during pregnancy or in the four weeks following childbirth. While some level of “the baby blues” is considered normal after delivery, affecting up to 80% of new mothers, peripartum depression is a more serious condition that can have a profound impact on the mother’s quality of life, as well as her ability to properly care for her child.

Symptoms of peripartum depression can include:

  • Persistent sadness or emptiness
  • Loss of interest in activities that used to bring joy
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Irritability or anger
  • Lack of energy or motivation
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Difficulty bonding with the baby
  • Persistent thoughts of death or suicide

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek help from a professional. Left untreated, peripartum depression can have serious consequences for both mother and child.

What Causes Peripartum Depression?

It’s not entirely clear what causes peripartum depression. But there are some factors that may play a role, including:

  • Hormonal changes: The dramatic shift in hormones during pregnancy and after delivery can trigger depression in some women.
  • Genetics: If you have a personal or family history of depression or bipolar disorder, you may be more likely to experience it yourself.
  • Stress: The physical and emotional demands of pregnancy and early motherhood can be overwhelming. Add in the stress of caring for a newborn, and it’s no wonder so many women feel overwhelmed.
  • Sleep deprivation: Lack of sleep is common during pregnancy and the first few months after delivery. And we all know how important getting adequate sleep is to our mental health!

What Risk Factors Make a Woman More Likely To Experience Perinatal Depression?

There are several factors that make a woman more likely to experience perinatal depression. They include:

  • Having a history of depression or anxiety
  • Experiencing stressful life events during pregnancy or after delivery
  • Having a lack of social support
  • Feeling unable to bond with your baby
  • Having a baby with health problems
  • Having a history of postpartum depression

If you have any of these risk factors, it’s important to be extra vigilant in monitoring your mental health during and after pregnancy.

What Are the Treatment Options for Postpartum Depression?

Left untreated, perinatal depression can have serious consequences on the health of the mother, the baby, and the entire family. Peripartum depression may also negatively influence mother-infant bonding, child development, and child behavior.

If you’re struggling with perinatal depression, it’s important to seek professional help. Psychotherapy, antidepressant medication, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) are effective treatments for this condition.

Psychotherapy is a great option for women who want to avoid taking medication during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that has been shown to be particularly effective in treating postpartum depression.

Psychotherapy can help you to improve your mental health by:

  • Identifying and changing negative thinking patterns
  • Managing stress and anxiety
  • Building a support system
  • Learning coping skills
  • Improving your communication and problem-solving skills

Psychotherapy is considered the primary recommended treatment. However, for patients with moderate to severe depressive symptoms, psychotherapy may not be sufficient, and medications may be indicated. If you decide to take medication to help with this and other mental disorders, there are several cases when the benefits outweigh the risks. Be sure to talk with a doctor before taking any medication.

Research reports 70–80% of pregnant women prefer not to take antidepressants. So, peripartum mental health providers should be prepared to discuss the spectrum of available options so patients and their families may make informed decisions for the best outcomes possible. Research supports rTMS as a safe and effective treatment for pregnant women with major depressive disorder (MDD).

It’s also essential to develop a support system of family and friends who can help you through this struggle with perinatal depression. If you don’t have close family or friends nearby, there are many online support groups for mothers with peripartum depression.

It’s important to work with a mental health professional to find the treatment that’s right for you. With the right help, you can overcome peripartum depression and enjoy this special time.

What Are The Consequences Of Untreated Peripartum Depression?

Untreated peripartum depression can have serious consequences for both mother and child. It can lead to:

  • Postpartum depression: If peripartum depression is left untreated, it can develop into postpartum depression. This is a more severe form of depression that can last for months or longer after delivery.
  • Poor bonding with your baby: Depression can make it difficult to bond with your baby. This can lead to attachment issues and problems with parenting down the road.
  • Poor self-care: Depression can make it hard to take care of yourself, both physically and emotionally. This can lead to further health problems down the road.

One of the best things you can do as a mother is to take care of yourself, so that you can be there for your baby. If you think you might be struggling with peripartum depression, please reach out for help. There are many resources available to you, and treatment can make a world of difference.

5 Holistic Coping Mechanisms You Can Try At Home

As a new mother, it’s important to take care of yourself both mentally and physically. Here are some holistic coping mechanisms that can help you to manage perinatal depression:

  1. Get enough sleep

Sleep is essential for your mental and physical health. Be sure to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night, if possible. If your baby does not yet sleep through the night, be sure to take naps when you can. Ideally, you should try to sleep while your baby is sleeping.

  1. Eat a healthy diet

Eating nutritious foods will help to improve your energy levels and mood. Be sure to eat plenty of anti-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It can be helpful to avoid processed foods and sugar as much as possible.

Some breastfeeding-friendly foods include:

  • Oatmeal
  • Almonds
  • Chia seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Leafy greens
  • Sweet potatoes
  1. Exercise

Exercise releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting properties. Taking a brisk walk or participating in another form of moderate exercise for 30 minutes a day can help to improve your mental state.

  1. Spend time outside

Getting some fresh air and vitamin D can help to improve your mood. Spend at least 20 minutes outside each day, in blue or green spaces, if possible.

  1. Practice meditation or mindfulness

Whether or not you have one or more mood disorders, mindfulness can help to reduce stress and anxiety. There are many free resources available online to help you get started with meditation. For example, the app Headspace offers a 10-day introductory course to meditation.

These are just a few of the many holistic coping mechanisms that can help you to manage peripartum depression. Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise routine or dietary supplement.

When To Seek Help

Emotional and mental health are critically important to enjoying a healthy pregnancy and delivering a healthy baby. Diagnosis and treatment of depression early is vital to the long-term health of both mother, baby, and family. During pregnancy, early intervention and treatment for depression will also reduce the likelihood of postpartum depression.

If you are struggling with peripartum depression, it’s important to seek help from a mental health professional. Treatment can make a world of difference. You should seek help if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Sadness or depression that does not go away
  • Loss of interest in activities that you used to enjoy
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Irritability or anger
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Thoughts of self-harm or harming your baby

If you are experiencing thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or seek emergency medical help immediately. If you are in need of immediate help, call 911.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to coping with peripartum depression, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. This is a common condition that is highly treatable. You should talk to your doctor if you have any concerns and ask for a mental health screening at your next appointment to get started with safe, effective treatment. Depression is treatable, and it’s essential for expectant and new mothers to get help. If you’re concerned about the use of antidepressant medications while pregnant, it’s helpful to know that there are other alternative depression treatments available, such as TMS therapy.

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