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Image Source: GettyYou may have heard of postpartum depression, but it’s time to get to know another, related condition: perinatal depression. More general and encompassing a larger time period, perinatal depression refers to depression that occurs before and/or after pregnancy. (Postpartum depression, by contrast, only occurs after pregnancy.) The condition is now in the spotlight after Britney Spears shared her experience with perinatal depression during previous pregnancies.
“It’s hard because when I was pregnant I had perinatal depression,” the singer wrote in an Instagram post, announcing her latest pregnancy with fiancé Sam Asghari. The depression, Spears wrote, was “absolutely horrible.” People “didn’t talk about it back then,” she continued. “[S]ome people considered it dangerous if a woman complained like that with a baby inside her . . . but now women talk about it everyday.” Spears said that she’s thankful that it no longer felt necessary to keep that “pain” inside.
According to a 2020 review, perinatal depression affects 10 to 20 percent of people in the US during or after pregnancy, which is another reason why the stigma that Spears alludes to can be so harmful. Depression can make you feel isolated and helpless, like you’re the only one going through these struggles. And while symptoms and experiences do vary from patient to patient, knowing that you’re not the only one experiencing perinatal depression, and that it’s possible to feel better, can be life-changing.
What Is Perinatal Depression? Risk Factors and Symptoms
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines perinatal depression as a mood disorder that occurs during pregnancy or following childbirth, so it encompasses both prenatal depression (depression that starts during pregnancy) and postpartum depression (which begins after the baby is born). According to a 2020 review, perinatal depression is caused by “a complex interaction” of factors, including genetics, a neuroendocrine system that modulates your body’s response to stressors, and factors relating to your environment and social situation.
Though perinatal depression can affect anyone during or after pregnancy, risk factors include:
- A personal or family history of depressive, bipolar, or anxiety disorders
- An unwanted, difficult, and/or traumatic pregnancy
- A multiple birth (giving birth to twins, triplets, etc.)
- An ongoing health problem with the baby
- A history of physical or sexual abuse
- A lack of social support
Those who identify as “American Indian/Alaska and Hawaii Native heritage” have a 30 percent higher incidence of perinatal depression, per the Cleveland Clinic.
According to NIMH, symptoms of perinatal depression can vary between patients. But common symptoms include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, emptiness, hopelessness, helplessness, and/or irritability
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies or activities you previously enjoyed
- Abnormal fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating; remembering; making decisions; and/or sleeping, including when the baby is sleeping
- Trouble bonding with the baby, or persistent doubts about your ability to care for them
- Thoughts about death, suicide, or harming yourself or the baby
Can Perinatal Depression Be Treated?
Perinatal depression is a medical condition, and you should see a mental health professional or healthcare provider for a diagnosis and treatment options. This disorder is typically treated with therapy, medications such as antidepressants, or a combination of the two, according to NIMH.
If you think you or someone you know is experiencing perinatal depression, it’s important to reach out to a healthcare provider for help. Experts stress that perinatal depression typically does not go away on its own, and that treatment is necessary for the health of the parent and child.
Due to a lingering stigma around perinatal depression, some people might find it difficult to reach out for help. It’s important to remember that this disorder is common and treatable — you’re not alone, you’re not a bad parent, and you’re not doing anything “wrong” by experiencing perinatal depression. Treatment and support can ease symptoms and help you feel healthier and happier as a parent and a person.
Image Source: Getty/Valerie Macon/AFP