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Depression is more than just feeling "blue" or "down in the dumps" for a few days. It's a serious illness that involves the brain. With depression, sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings don't go away and interfere with day-to-day life and routines. These feelings can be mild to severe. The good news is that most people with depression get better with treatment.
Depression is a common problem during and after pregnancy. About 13 percent of pregnant women and new mothers have depression.
When you are pregnant or after you have a baby, you may be depressed and not know it. Some normal changes during and after pregnancy can cause symptoms similar to those of depression. But if you have any of the following symptoms of depression for more than 2 weeks, call your doctor:
Your doctor can figure out if your symptoms are caused by depression or something else.
There is no single cause. Rather, depression likely results from a combination of factors:
Depression after childbirth is called postpartum depression. Hormonal changes may trigger symptoms of postpartum depression. When you are pregnant, levels of the female hormones estrogen (ESS-truh-jen) and progesterone (proh-JESS-tur-ohn) increase greatly. In the first 24 hours after childbirth, hormone levels quickly return to normal. Researchers think the big change in hormone levels may lead to depression. This is much like the way smaller hormone changes can affect a woman's moods before she gets her period.
Levels of thyroid hormones may also drop after giving birth. The thyroid is a small gland in the neck that helps regulate how your body uses and stores energy from food. Low levels of thyroid hormones can cause symptoms of depression. A simple blood test can tell if this condition is causing your symptoms. If so, your doctor can prescribe thyroid medicine.
Other factors may play a role in postpartum depression. You may feel:
Certain factors may increase your risk of depression during and after pregnancy:
Women who are depressed during pregnancy have a greater risk of depression after giving birth.
Many women have the baby blues in the days after childbirth. If you have the baby blues, you may:
The baby blues most often go away within a few days or a week. The symptoms are not severe and do not need treatment.
The symptoms of postpartum depression last longer and are more severe. Postpartum depression can begin anytime within the first year after childbirth. If you have postpartum depression, you may have any of the symptoms of depression listed above. Symptoms may also include:
Postpartum depression needs to be treated by a doctor.
Postpartum psychosis (seye-KOH-suhss) is rare. It occurs in about 1 to 4 out of every 1,000 births. It usually begins in the first 2 weeks after childbirth. Women who have bipolar disorder or another mental health problem called schizoaffective (SKIT-soh-uh-FEK-tiv) disorder have a higher risk for postpartum psychosis. Symptoms may include:
Call your doctor if:
Your doctor can ask you questions to test for depression. Your doctor can also refer you to a mental health professional who specializes in treating depression.
Some women don't tell anyone about their symptoms. They feel embarrassed, ashamed, or guilty about feeling depressed when they are supposed to be happy. They worry they will be viewed as unfit parents.
Any woman may become depressed during pregnancy or after having a baby. It doesn't mean you are a bad or "not together" mom. You and your baby don't have to suffer. There is help.
Here are some other helpful tips:
The two common types of treatment for depression are:
These treatment methods can be used alone or together. If you are depressed, your depression can affect your baby. Getting treatment is important for you and your baby. Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of taking medicine to treat depression when you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Untreated depression can hurt you and your baby. Some women with depression have a hard time caring for themselves during pregnancy. They may:
Depression during pregnancy can raise the risk of:
Untreated postpartum depression can affect your ability to parent. You may:
As a result, you may feel guilty and lose confidence in yourself as a mother. These feelings can make your depression worse.
Researchers believe postpartum depression in a mother can affect her baby. It can cause the baby to have:
It helps if your partner or another caregiver can help meet the baby's needs while you are depressed.
All children deserve the chance to have a healthy mom. And all moms deserve the chance to enjoy their life and their children. If you are feeling depressed during pregnancy or after having a baby, don't suffer alone. Please tell a loved one and call your doctor right away.
For more information about depression during and after pregnancy, call womenshealth.gov at 800-994-9662 (TDD: 888-220-5446) or contact the following organizations:
Content last updated: July 16, 2012.