Depression and Pregnancy: Here’s What Women Need to Know

By Kevin P. Caputo, M.D.

For most women, the joy of becoming a mother makes pregnancy a time of excitement and optimism. However, for others, pregnancy can become a significant burden; approximately 10 percent of pregnant women suffer from depression.

This particular medical issue generated more national awareness in 2001 after Texas resident Andrea Yates drowned her five children in the family’s bathtub, an incident some attributed to multiple antidepressants she had been taking. More recently, another Texas mom named Christy Sheets, who had also been taking antidepressants, fatally shot her two daughters.

Doctors think the hormonal boost at the start of pregnancy may actually cause depression. And depression during pregnancy can increase a woman’s chance of preterm labor.

But what are the risks when it comes to getting pregnant while you’re already depressed? About 25 percent of women will experience symptoms of depression during their lives, so it’s an issue that deserves the foresight of soon-to-be parents.

The first consideration is medication. Some antidepressants cause problems for the unborn baby; others are harmless. Antidepressants safe for consumption during pregnancy include some selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Celexa, Prozac and Zoloft; serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), such as Cymbalta and Effexor XR; as well as certain other secondary or tertiary options women can ask their doctors about if they are not responding to initial prescriptions.

Some of these medications can increase the possibility of miscarriage, preterm birth and low birth weight. But not taking any medication at all, if the depression is severe enough, can also cause miscarriage, pre-eclampsia, preterm birth, neonatal complications and smaller babies. Sometimes, psychotherapy or interpersonal therapy may provide enough treatment to help expecting mothers through their pregnancies.

It’s vitally important that women experiencing depression have open and honest communication with their doctors throughout pregnancy.

While having children can actually reduce the symptoms of depression in men, the same does not always hold true for women. Research shows that women tend to feel a heavier burden than men during pregnancy and the early stages of parenthood, which can exacerbate any existing symptoms of depression. The onset of postpartum depression following the birth of a child can also magnify preexisting depression symptoms.

Antenatal depression, also called prenatal depression, is another serious but lesser-known condition in which a woman basically experiences the symptoms of postpartum depression while still pregnant, and it can, in fact, lead to postpartum depression after birth. About 15 percent of pregnant women will experience this.

The social pressures of pregnancy can also have an impact. When expecting mothers don’t feel the stereotypical “pregnancy glow” they’re prone to feeling ashamed and putting off a trip to the doctor.

If you’ve ever been diagnosed as being depressed and plan to get pregnant in the future, talk to your doctor to better understand the risks and possible treatment options before becoming pregnant.

About the Author

Kevin P. Caputo, M.D.

Dr. Caputo believes a trusting, open relationship is important to facilitate the healing process. He feels it is important for patients to be educated in order to create the best outcome.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Caputo, please call 610-874-5257.

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