Perinatal depression and anxiety are common, temporary, and treatable disorders experienced by women during pregnancy and in the first year after the birth of the child. Unfortunately, these mood disorders are often unrecognized and untreated, impacting the whole family.
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Types of perinatal mental health disorders
Perintal mental health disorders include a range of mood and anxiety disorders affecting women during pregnancy and the first year postpartum. They include:
- Depression during pregnancy or postpartum
- Anxiety during pregnancy or postpartum
- Postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Postpartum psychosis
- Grief reactions to pregnancy or infant loss
Additional information about each of the major perinatal mood disorders is avaliable from Postpartum Support International.
Depression is the leading cause of disease-related disability among women, and pregnant and postpartum women are at increased risk for depression.
An estimated 10 to 20 percent of all women experience depression during pregnancy or the first 12 months postpartum and one in eight (13 percent) experience postpartum depression.
Postpartum psychosis, a rare but serious disorder requiring immediate intervention, occurs in one to two of every 1,000 births.
Mothers living in poverty are two to three times more likely to have depression than other mothers. Self-reported depression rates among low-income mothers of young children are in the 40 to 60 percent range.
Perinatal depression or anxiety can affect any woman – regardless of age, race, income, culture, or education. However, family history, previous health or mental health problems, and stressful life circumstances can increase a woman’s chances of having perinatal depression or anxiety.
Risk factors for perinatal depression and anxiety include:
- History of previous depression or other mood disorders
- Recent stressful life events
- Inadequate social supports
- Poor marital/partner relationship
- Low self-esteem
- Child care stress
- Difficult infant temperament
- Single marital status
- Unplanned or unwanted pregnancy
- Lower socioeconomic status
Common symptoms of perinatal depression and anxiety include:
- Restlessness or irritability
- Anxiety or agitation
- Sadness, weepiness
- Withdrawing from loved ones and social isolation
- Feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness
- Loss of motivation and interest in normal activities
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Lack of interest in one’s self or children
- Lack of interest in newborn or hyper vigilance about the newborn
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Impaired concentration or feeling overwhelmed
Impact of untreated perinatal mental health disorders
Untreated or inadequately treated maternal mental health disorders can result in serious, long term consequences on maternal health and pregnancy, parenting and family relationships, and infant and child health and development.
Impact on maternal health and pregnancy outcomes
- Depressed women have increased rates of substance abuse, inadequate prenatal care and poor prenatal nutrition.
- Pregnant women with depression are also at risk for increased rates of maternal hypertension, miscarriage and premature labor.
- Depressed women are 3.4 times more likely to deliver preterm, and four times as likely to deliver a baby with low birthweight.
Impact on parenting and family relationships
- Maternal mental health disorders are associated with: less nurturing (reading, singing, playing, cuddling), increased familial conflicts, lower rates of breastfeeding, and mothers being less likely to follow safety or health guidelines for children.
- Maternal depression and anxiety affect a woman’s ability to care for herself, relate to others and engage in healthy parenting behaviors.
Impact on infant and child health
- Children of depressed mothers are at risk for serious health, developmental, emotional, behavioral and cognitive problems that can persist for many years.
Frequently asked questions
Additional perinatal mental health topics