Crying pregnant woman
Peripartum depression is when a depressive episode begins during a pregnancy or in the month that follows.

An Overview of Peripartum Depression

Pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood are supposed to be some of the best moments of your life as you share your love with this beautiful child you and your partner created. Unfortunately, too many mothers cannot experience the bliss of this time, and instead, they feel uncomfortable, sad, and disconnected from their child.

By now, you’ve probably heard of postpartum depression and the damage it can cause to new mothers. Have you heard of peripartum depression, though?

What Is Peripartum Depression?

Despite the term’s common use in media, medical and mental health professionals do not recognize the term postpartum depression. They call it peripartum depression or a major depressive disorder with peripartum onset.

Peripartum depression is when a full depressive episode begins during a pregnancy or in the month that follows. You can identify a depressive episode by symptoms like:

  • A depressed mood most of the day for almost every day over a two-week period. Some people may express their depressed mood through irritability or agitation.
  • Less interest in pleasurable activities
  • Weight loss when not dieting or failure to gain weight as expected
  • Sleeping too much or not enough
  • Feeling sped up or slowed down in behaviors or thinking
  • A lack of energy or feeling overly fatigued
  • Feeling worthless or needlessly guilty
  • Inability to think clearly, concentrate, or pay attention
  • Thoughts of death or dying

If peripartum depression involves giving birth, why not just call it postpartum? The truth is that as many as 50 percent of people with this condition will note symptoms before the baby is born, so calling it postpartum depression is quite misleading.

Additional Peripartum Symptoms

Peripartum depression is marked by some or all of the above depressive symptoms, but the condition can bring additional problems. Many women with peripartum depression report intense feelings of worry, stress, and panic associated with anxiety. They might feel physically tense, restless, or “on edge.”

Some women will experience psychotic episodes with their peripartum depression. Psychotic episodes are very problematic because the woman will be separated from reality during this period and have:

  • Hallucinations. Seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, or smelling things that are not present. Women may see demons or hear voices telling them to harm themselves or the baby.
  • Delusions. Believing things that are not true. Delusional thinking can make a woman very paranoid and untrusting or make her believe she is communicating with God.
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These psychotic symptoms are not common as they only occur in as many as 1 out of 500 women. They are extremely dangerous, though, as the death of mothers and their children are highly associated with peripartum psychosis.

More than Baby Blues

Peripartum is more than just the baby blues based on duration, onset, prevalence rates, and severity.

  1. The baby blues only last about ten days where peripartum depression lasts more than 14 days.
  2. Baby blues usually start a few days after birth where peripartum can begin anytime between pregnancy and a year following delivery.
  3. Baby blues is very common with about 80 percent of all mothers reporting some symptoms, but only about five percent will experience full peripartum depression.
  4. In terms of intensity, baby blues are milder while peripartum can be very severe. Peripartum can result in suicidal and homicidal thoughts and actions.

Not to say that the baby blues cannot significantly impact the lives of the mother and child, but the symptoms and signs are preferable compared to the possible devastations linked to peripartum depression.

Peripartum: Screening and Treatment

With something as impactful as peripartum depression, women, their families, and their doctors need to employ a team approach to assess and treat the condition quickly and thoroughly. The best treatments begin with accurate education on the subject.

Once the woman and her family are informed of the signs, symptoms, and risks of peripartum, the treatment team can start screening for the condition. Since any point of pregnancy can trigger symptoms, screening should start early and continue often.

To assess your mood changes, ask yourself how you have been feeling and take inventory of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Track your sleep, appetite, and exercise routines and share this information with your doctor to make sure you are on the right track.

Noting the difference between normal changes associated with pregnancy and abnormal changes sparked by peripartum depression can be challenging. Be sure to let your treatment team know if you have pre-existing depression or have had peripartum symptoms with previous deliveries.

If the screening reveals peripartum depression, there are a number of medication options that are safe for you and your child, even if you plan to breastfeed while on the prescription. Your doctor can offer medications based on your symptoms and goals.

Therapy is another great option which can be utilized at any stage of the process as a way to prevent or decrease the impact of peripartum depression. Your therapy can provide further assessments and a range of coping skills to ensure the safety of you and your child.

The Bottom Line...

Peripartum depression is a troubling concern, but with proper diagnosis and treatment, the condition can be minimized to help you maximize your satisfaction in your motherhood.