When Depression Strikes During Pregnancy


“Congratulations!” That’s what so many of us hear when we announce we’re expecting a baby. Suddenly we’re surrounded by smiling faces eager and excited to help us plan projects like our nursery to offering us advice on everything from getting baby to sleep to rekindling our sex lives. But one piece of advice that many pregnant women may be looking for isn’t there—how to deal with prenatal depression.

During pregnancy women experience many emotions—excitement, nervousness, and anxiety about what to expect throughout pregnancy and after Baby arrives. Throughout recent years, women have become more comfortable sharing the not-so-happy times and admitting their weight gain, describing aches and pains, and swapping stories about how their waters broke to how they handled painful hemorrhoids. But depression both during pregnancy and postpartum is still whispered about behind closed doors, although recent studies and outspoken celebrities are bringing the subject to the forefront.

“More and more the stigma is decreasing,” says Dr. Shoshana S. Bennett, a licensed psychologist, and co-author of Beyond the Blues: A Guide to Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Depression. “Women are more apt to come forward and get help themselves. Celebrities have helped to de-stigmatize ‘mental illness’ as has having health providers that women can trust.”

You’re Not Alone: Prenatal Depression Statistics

Because it is difficult to pinpoint whether a woman is experiencing normal pregnancy-related mood changes or something more serious, the symptoms of prenatal depression have often been overlooked. Recent news reports indicating the negative effects prenatal depression has on pregnant women and their unborn babies, including low birth weight and preterm labor, are bringing the matter to the forefront where it can be examined and discussed.

“Pregnancy is not always a happy, glowing experience. Anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of women get depressed during their pregnancy, and one out of five are more serious cases,” says Dr. Bennett. After her second bout with undiagnosed postpartum depression in 1987, Dr. Bennet founded Postpartum Assistance for Mothers, has counseled thousands of women around the country, and has been featured on programs such as 20/20. She stresses the need for women to understand the risks and symptoms of prenatal depression and share them with someone they trust so they can receive an individualized assistance plan.