What You Should Know About Treating Depression During Pregnancy

While most new mothers will experience some degree of baby blues (or mild mood swings caused by hormonal changes after birth), about 1 in 7 people will have a much more severe mood disorder before, during, or after pregnancy: perinatal depression.

While symptoms of perinatal depression vary from case to case, common symptoms include feelings of worthlessness, as well as extreme sadness, misery, and irritability. It can last for weeks or even months if left untreated.

The term perinatal depression encompasses both prenatal and postnatal depression.

Unfortunately, many women with perinatal depression are not properly diagnosed or treated, creating a major public health problem.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force suggests that women at risk should seek behavioral counseling to effectively prevent perinatal depression.

Cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy have been most effective

The task force reviewed 50 studies that previously examined the effectiveness of various treatments for perinatal depression—such as physical activity, education, diet, medication, and counseling—to determine which treatment options work best.

The team found that cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy were most effective in preventing perinatal depression. In fact, both types of counseling reduced the risk of developing a mood disorder by about 39%.

Interpersonal therapy is administered during pregnancy and is designed to help identify social, psychological, and biological factors that may affect a woman’s mood. The counselor works with the patient to increase the mother’s confidence, ease the transition to parenthood, and reduce interpersonal stress.

A general practitioner, Dr. “Together, they develop a plan for how to deal with potential conflicts around workloads at home and at work, sleep patterns, who does what when the baby is born, and possible postpartum issues such as breastfeeding,” said Samuel Malloy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), on the other hand, is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on changing individual thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. According to Malloy, a CBT therapist typically helps the mother first identify any harmful thought patterns or underlying beliefs and then develop coping strategies to combat anxiety and depressive symptoms.

Treatment should be individualized for each woman

Many health professionals believe that treatment for perinatal depression is most effective when it is an individualized treatment plan. Women should work with their doctors to create a treatment approach tailored to their specific symptoms.

Typically, psychotherapy is the first-line treatment for women with mild to moderate perinatal depression, but is often complemented by other treatment options and lifestyle changes.

D., a psychiatrist specializing in women’s mental health at Allina Health in Minneapolis. “Women with moderate to severe depression often need a combination of psychotherapy and antidepressant medication,” Elizabeth LaRusso told Healthline.

In addition, LaRusso added that all women can benefit from increasing their social support system, reducing external stressors, exercising, improving their diet and getting enough sleep. Family planning and breastfeeding decision support can also help women transition to motherhood.

Doctors are still working to understand who is most at risk.

Despite the fact that perinatal depression is one of the most common complications of pregnancy, doctors have not been able to establish a standard screening tool to accurately determine whether a woman is experiencing perinatal depression. As a result, many people with the disorder go untreated.

The researchers found that those with a history of depression or depressive symptoms, a family history of depression, or external stressors such as a young or unwanted pregnancy, financial problems, abuse or unemployment had a greater risk.

However, more research is needed to determine why some women are predisposed to perinatal depression.

Knowing what causes and prevents perinatal depression can greatly improve the life of not only the mother but also the child. Maternal depression can negatively affect the baby’s health and increase the risk of preterm birth, low birth weight, among other developmental problems.

What Should You Do If You Start to Experience Symptoms?

Some of the most common warning signs include sleeping excessively, crying excessively, and feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, or restless. But the symptoms are extensive and vary for each woman.

If you start experiencing symptoms or suspect you may have perinatal depression, you shouldn’t feel guilty or embarrassed to seek help, health experts advise. Experts want expectant mothers to remember that having perinatal depression does not mean you are a bad mother. All women are prone to perinatal depression and it is important to remember that you are not alone.

“If you’re pregnant or a new mom and you’re having worse days than good, reach out to your support system, talk to your Obstetrician/GYN or midwife. Let people know you’re struggling! ” LaRusso recommended. “Depression is treatable and when detected early, the burden of suffering is significantly less.”


While perinatal depression is one of the most common complications of pregnancy, most women who have it go untreated. Now, a special task force suggests that women at risk undergo counseling intervention to avoid mood disorder.

Healthline, What to Know About Treating Depression During Pregnancy, 2019

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