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What is Perinatal Depression? Causes, Diagnosis and Possible Treatment

Becoming a mother can be a challenging process. Your body changes, your routines and priorities shift, your identity transforms to adapt to your new role. All of these physical and emotional demands can be overwhelming. Identifying perinatal depression is critical to ensuring the well-being of mother and child.

People are generally aware of postpartum depression as a clinical entity that occurs after childbirth. However, it’s possible that these feelings of sadness, anguish, and hopelessness may already appear during pregnancy.

It’s important to take the signs seriously and seek professional help as soon as they’re suspected, as this depressive state has serious consequences. We’ll tell you more about it in this article.

What is Perinatal Depression?

Perinatal depression is a mood disorder that occurs during pregnancy or in the first year after childbirth. It encompasses both prenatal depression and postpartum depression. It’s a serious clinical entity that goes beyond the baby blues that many women experience in the first weeks after giving birth.

Perinatal depression is characterized by a deep and recurrent sadness that’s accompanied by apathy, lack of interest, and an inability to experience pleasure. However, it also has a number of other symptoms:

  • Feeling of emptiness, helplessness, or hopelessness.
  • Concern about your own performance as a mother and feelings of guilt.
  • Restlessness, concentration difficulties, and memory problems.
  • Sleep and appetite disturbances.
  • Psychosomatic pain and discomfort (not explained by an organic cause).
  • Neglect of self-care and social isolation.
  • In severe cases, thoughts of harming herself or the baby.

What are the causes?

It isn’t possible to define a single reason that can account for the onset of perinatal depression. It’s a combination of genetic, environmental, and personal factors. Because of this, women who have a family history of mood disorders are more at risk.

On the other hand, the physical and hormonal alterations of pregnancy and the postpartum period can contribute to its appearance. In addition to emotional lability, certain diseases that may arise during pregnancy (diabetes, anemia or thyroid disorders) contribute to increasing the symptoms.

At the psychosocial level, women who are going through an unwanted pregnancy, who have socioeconomic, family, or partner problems, as well as those who don’t receive sufficient social support from those around them are more likely to suffer from perinatal depression.

In short, no woman is exempt from experiencing this condition and its appearance will depend, to a large extent, on the resources that the mother has to manage the changes and demands of this stage.

Identifying perinatal depression early on is paramount

Just as the baby blues usually go away within a few weeks on their own, depression doesn’t. If the woman doesn’t receive treatment, the disorder tends to perpetuate itself, creating serious consequences.

The mother will live through the gestational or postpartum period with great anguish and suffering, will be at greater risk of falling into substance abuse and other harmful behaviors and will have great difficulty bonding emotionally with her baby.

For its part, the fetus also suffers the consequences of maternal mood. Perinatal depression can lead to premature births, low birth weight, and delayed development in the child’s early years.

In addition, it has been found that adolescents whose mothers suffered from perinatal depression have a 4.7 times greater risk of being depressed at age 16.

But it isn’t only the mother and child who are affected by this disorder; the repercussions can extend to the entire immediate environment. The couple’s relationship is damaged and, if there are other children, they may suffer from the mother’s difficulties in caring for them adequately.

Possible treatments for perinatal depression

There are both pharmacological and psychological options for dealing with perinatal depression. The former are considered when the depression is severe or the woman doesn’t respond to other interventions, since there are certain risks for the fetus.

Even so, SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) seem to be an effective and relatively safe alternative.

Psychotherapy is an excellent alternative that can be implemented at any time during gestation and offers good results. Specifically, cognitive-behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy have the most scientific support. They help women to restructure their thoughts, interpretations, and behavior.

In short, given the great risks involved in untreated perinatal depression, it’s essential to put yourself in the hands of specialists. If you identify with anything we’ve touched on in this post then don’t hesitate to ask for help.

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