What You Need to Know about Depression DURING Pregnancy

What You Need to Know About Depression DURING Pregnancy

By Alice M. Jannini, LCSW, CCLS
Virtua Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Postpartum Support Group Facilitator
Child Development Behavior Specialist

It's widely reported that postpartum depression can affect many people after the birth of a child. In general, somewhere between 15-20% of new parents will develop this condition.

What's less known is that you can develop depression or anxiety in the perinatal period, meaning the time during pregnancy OR in the first year after birth. 

According to studies, prenatal depression is probably just as common as postpartum depression. This is one of the reasons why the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all pregnant people be routinely screened for depression.

Virtua offers a weekly postpartum depression support group, and parents-to-be are welcome to attend and discuss their concerns. I am always happy to see pregnant people come to our group. This is a huge proactive step that shows that you care for yourself, are in touch with your feelings, and know you need to find support to get through a challenging time.

What's the difference between baby blues and perinatal depression?

Not everyone who feels sad or anxious during or after pregnancy has clinical depression or a psychiatric condition. Mood swings, worry, and overwhelming emotions are expected—especially during the surging hormones, physical changes, and dramatic lifestyle changes that come with parenthood. However, if these symptoms are severe enough to cause repetitive or intrusive thoughts and disrupt your ability to function and interact with others, perinatal depression or anxiety is likely to blame.

You know yourself best. You know how you feel when you're healthy and when you're not. If something isn't right, it's important to share that with a medical professional like your obstetrician, midwife, or primary care doctor. Your provider might use a depression screening to gauge the severity of your symptoms, and it's crucial to answer honestly.

Attending a support group like the one offered at Virtua can help you find the words to describe what you're experiencing, alleviate feelings of isolation, and help you begin to develop strategies to support yourself. You'll also have the opportunity to hear from and connect with other people struggling with similar feelings and problems, so you don't feel alone.

What to know about anxiety and intrusive thoughts

Intrusive thoughts happen to everyone at some point in their lives, but they're more prevalent and worrisome for new parents. Intrusive thoughts during the perinatal period are often related to the baby's vulnerability. You may think:

  • What if I drop him?
  • What if someone tries to steal my baby?
  • What if I cut her with a sharp knife?
  • What if I can't cope with the stress and become psychotic?

We encourage support group members to have an open discussion about these scary thoughts.

If intrusive thoughts like this are disrupting your life, it might indicate a clinical anxiety disorder that can be treated by a medical professional. Rest assured that if you're aware that the thoughts are disturbing and unwelcome, it's a good sign that you're safe from psychosis. A person experiencing psychosis may feel that their thoughts are normal, and everyone else can't understand.

Once people connect in the group and express their feelings, they often feel better right away. They then can learn and share positive coping and distraction techniques to get on with the business of their everyday lives.

Getting help for prenatal and postpartum depression and anxiety

Virtua offers several services to help people experiencing depression and anxiety during or after pregnancy, including:

  • Depression screening in the hospital after delivery
  • TLC for Parents weekly perinatal depression support group
  • Education on treatment options that may include medication and/or counseling
  • Coordination with your obstetrician or midwife
  • Additional support through follow-up telephone calls

Virtua also offers postpartum depression telephone support for information and referrals at 866-380-2229, 9 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday.

If you have any thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

Updated May 18, 2022

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