Mood Disorders During Pregnancy and Childbirth

Hormonal changes during pregnancy and childbirth can have a profound impact on mood. Approximately 10% of women experience depression during pregnancy, and studies show that women who have been treated for depression before pregnancy are more likely to experience depression during pregnancy. Depression is a serious medical condition that poses risks for both mother and baby. That’s why it’s important for women who have had a history of depression, or are taking antidepressants, speak with their physician prior to trying to conceive. The good news is, there are highly effective treatment options available to manage depression during pregnancy, including individual and group therapy or counseling, and in some cases anti-depressant medication.

Postpartum mood changes are common due to the significant hormonal changes that occur immediately following childbirth. In fact, approximately 80% of women experience the “baby blues” – a period of heightened emotional sensitivity and mild depression which occurs within the first 10 days after delivery and may last about 1-2 weeks.

However, for about 10-15% of women, these symptoms are more profound and persistent. Called postpartum depression, this condition can occur within the first few weeks after childbirth and can persist up to one year or longer, if not treated. Postpartum depression is characterized by moderate-to-severe mood changes that can interfere with a woman’s ability to handle day-to-day tasks, including caring for her infant. Postpartum depression symptoms generally include:

  • Severe mood swings and intense irritability and anger
  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy
  • Difficulty bonding with the baby
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Lack of joy in life
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia

In some cases, postpartum depression is so severe that a woman may have thoughts of harming herself or her infant. In these cases, it is critical that a woman seek immediate medical attention.

When to talk to your physician

In the case of depression, mild depressive episodes generally do not persist beyond a few weeks, nor does mild depression interfere with day-to-day function. Therefore, it’s important for a woman to see her physician when feelings of depression or anxiety are persistent and she is experiencing any of the following symptoms in addition to depression/anxiety:

  • Difficulty sleeping, or sleeping too much
  • Lack of interest in daily activities; lack of motivation
  • Withdrawal from friends/family
  • Loss of energy or slowed movement
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in appetite
  • Restlessness, agitation
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or inadequacy
  • Thoughts or ideas about suicide, even if in passing (seek immediate medical care)

Treatment Options

There are many highly effective treatment options available for treating mood disorders in women. The most common treatment options include:

  • Counseling, psychotherapy and support groups
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications
  • Lifestyle changes, such as exercising and eating healthy

For more information about depression and other mood disorders, please speak with your physician, or click here to locate a Hoag-affiliated physician near you.