Depression is actually the #1 complication women deal with during (and after) pregnancy
Many women experience complications during pregnancy. When we think about those complications, our minds immediately go to miscarriage, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, or other physical ailments. But according to the American Psychological Association (APA), depression is actually the number one complication women experience during and post-pregnancy.
Dr. Patricia De Marco, Medical Director of Hoag’s Maternal Mental Health Program, noted that depression during pregnancy can not only have negative effects on an unborn baby, but can even affect the long-term development of that child.
"We know that not treating depression or anxiety during pregnancy can be very harmful to the pregnancy," Dr. De Marco told us. She explained that anxiety and depression during pregnancy can lead to those physical issues previously mentioned: "preterm birth, having a baby who is smaller than his/her gestational age, higher rates of preeclampsia and higher rates of C-section have been described," Dr. De Marco said.
Further, a mother struggling with untreated depression and anxiety may be setting her unborn child up to experience the same ailments later down the road. “A robust amount of data is emerging about fetal programming, which is essentially how the mother’s hormones…prepare the baby’s own neurochemistry to be able to adjust to the environment outside the womb,” Dr. De Marco told HelloGiggles. “The stress axis of a depressed or anxious mother may cause changes in the baby’s neurochemistry to prepare him or her to a ‘hostile’ environment. Thus, predisposing the child to future anxiety and depression.”
Often, depression does not enter the equation until after a child is born. The APA found that one in seven women develop postpartum depression following the birth of their child.
New mothers often experience a bout of “baby blues” — feeling stressed, anxious, weepy, lonely, and tired — shortly after the arrival of their child. But unlike baby blues, PPD does not go away without treatment. It can instead linger for weeks or months after a baby’s arrival. Warning signs of PPD vary from person to person. But some of the most common signs of PPD include experiencing frequent anxiety or panic attacks, eating in excess, loss of interest in things you used to find enjoyable, and disinterest in the baby, family, or friends.
Recent studies have shown that new fathers can also be at risk for developing PPD. New fathers and mothers should both be aware of warning signs.
Dr. De Marco noted that prevention of PPD starts with taking care of oneself. “Self-care is key,” she told us, pointing out the importance for new mothers to keep on top of their nutrition, physical activity, and sleep habits.
"Information is power," Dr. De Marco continued. "Know the signs and know yourself! Understand the risks of depression and learn the symptoms. Identify early and seek help." She added that strengthening one's support system and avoiding isolation is crucial to combating PPD.
If you or a loved one is struggling with PPD, help is out there. Seek the aid of a psychologist or mental health professional who can set up a treatment plan. And never hesitate to call the National Hopeline Network at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433), the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention: LifeLine at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255), or PPDMoms at 1-800-PPDMOMS (1-800-773-6667), for help or extra support.
You’re not alone and help is a phone call away.