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Mood Issues and Pregnancy: Depression Can Affect Mother and Child

US News & World Report - Health logo US News & World Report - Health 1/10/2019 Dr. Gail Saltz

Young tired, Sleepless and depressed, Pregnant woman unable to sleep while sitting on her bed at night in pain having problems sleeping. Suffering insomnia sleeping disorder or scared on nightmares looking sad worried and stressed: Many women suffer from depression while pregnant as well as after giving birth. © (ljubaphoto) Many women suffer from depression while pregnant as well as after giving birth.

Perinatal depression – which occurs during pregnancy or anywhere up to one year after birth – is remarkably common, often missed and has a significant impact on the baby.

Fifteen to 20 percent of women will experience perinatal depression. Depression during pregnancy causes a reaction in the brain and body equivalent to high stress, and the associated chemical changes affect a growing fetus. Depression post giving birth is known to affect the infant via impaired maternal infant bonding, which can impact the mother’s ability to attend to her infant’s needs, breastfeed, use judgment about infant safety, provide emotional connection and empathy.

At this point in time, only half of all women who experience perinatal depression receive treatment. This is due to a lack of recognition and diagnosis, lack of access to care and stigma preventing a woman from seeking diagnosis or care.

The American Pediatric Society is recommending that pediatricians be aware of these risks and for the welfare of mothers, children and families screen both pregnant women and women with children under 1 year for depression.

One thing that makes diagnosis difficult is that when you, a mom-to-be or new mom, have depression, one of the typical impacts is a loss of judgment and ability to see your own mental state. That can make it difficult to register that you are in fact depressed. Oftentimes it’s important that a partner, spouse, parent, sibling or friend notes the woman is depressed and helps her to get an evaluation and treatment.

Another big impediment is the shame associated with depression, especially in motherhood. The old myth that this is supposed to be the happiest time in your life causes many a mother to feel she must be some sort of terrible person no to be joyous as a new mother and to hide her symptoms from herself and others. Besides feeling hopeless, helpless, worthless, sad, numb and irritable, depression can cause difficulty sleeping and with appetite as well as social withdrawal. All of these things can take a toll on the health of the mother and her ability to care for her infant.

Children of depressed mothers often grow up to experience depression themselves. Important risk factors for developing perinatal depression include a family history or personal history of depression, substance abuse, young age, multiple births and preterm births, marital difficulties, poverty and social isolation.

Depression can take a toll on the mother, child and a spouse or partner. Many men also experience postpartum depression and can benefit from evaluation and treatment.

Talking to other young mothers who’ve had similar experiences can be helpful to feel understood and know you are far from alone.

Treatment for perinatal depression, which can be one of several types of psychotherapy or in more severe cases potentially medication with psychotherapy, is very effective and can allow a woman to return to a comfortable state and mood and fully engage in parenting. Treatment can also help prevent future depression in both mother and baby.

Related Video: U.S. Women Aren't Having Enough Babies to Replace Population (Provided by Today)

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