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Ask the Doctor: Patricia De Marco Centeno, M.D.

Q: How common is postpartum depression?

A: People are surprised to learn how common postpartum depression really is. In California, it is estimated that one in five women experiences maternal depression which makes it the leading complication of pregnancy, more common than preeclampsia.

It is estimated that up to 20 percent of women without a personal history of depression will experience a depressive episode during pregnancy and/or after childbirth. Up to 50 percent of women with a personal history of depression will experience a return of symptoms during this period. Interestingly, research has shown that up to 25 percent of fathers will experience depression after their child is born as well.

Postpartum depression by definition is a period of low mood, tearfulness and disinterest in otherwise pleasurable activities. It’s usually accompanied by changes in sleep, appetite and levels of energy for more than two weeks. More serious symptoms are hopelessness and suicidal thinking.

If left untreated, depression and anxiety during or after pregnancy have been associated with several complications such as premature delivery, low birth weight, higher rates of C-sections, and higher levels of stress on the newborn. A depressed mother is less likely to take good care of herself like eating well, taking vitamins and attending prenatal appointments. They are more likely to self-medicate with tobacco, cannabis or alcohol. Lastly, a baby born from a depressed or highly anxious mother may have changes in his or her own neurochemistry that predisposes that child to depression and anxiety later in life.

How can you or someone you love get help? At Hoag we offer a Maternal Mental Health Program dedicated to women experiencing mental health conditions before, during and after pregnancy. Our program includes an outpatient clinic where expectant and new moms with various mental health conditions can meet with a psychiatrist, licensed marriage and family therapist, or a licensed clinical social worker to receive the care they need or be connected to local resources. We offer pre-conception planning, mental health assessments, individual and group psychotherapy, medication safety evaluation during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and connection to local support services.

If you have questions or would like to receive more information, please call our Maternal Mental Health Support Line at 949-764-5333.

Patricia De Marco Centeno, M.D. is the physician director of the Hoag Maternal Mental Health Program and is a psychiatrist specializing in psychosomatic medicine and reproductive psychiatry.