Depression is an illness that affects the way people think, act and feel. About 6% of women will experience depression at some point in their lives. This number increases to about 10% (1 in 10) for women who are pregnant.
Women are more at risk of depression while they are pregnant, and during the weeks and months after having a baby. During pregnancy, hormone changes can affect brain chemicals and cause depression and anxiety. Sometimes, pregnant women don’t realize they are depressed. They may think they have symptoms of pregnancy or the “baby blues,” which many women experience right after birth.
It’s also important to know that as many as 10% of fathers experience postpartum depression after the birth of a child.
The good news is that depression can be treated. Read the signs listed below, and talk to your doctor if you have any of them. Let your partner and family members know the signs so that they can also be aware.
If you don’t get help, depression can cause problems for you and your baby.
What are the signs of depression?
Depression can come on slowly. The symptoms are different for everyone. They can be mild, moderate or severe. Some of the more common signs are:
- changes in appetite, like eating too much or having little interest in food,
- changes in sleep, such as trouble sleeping or sleeping too much,
- lack of energy,
- feeling sad, hopeless or worthless,
- crying for no reason, and
- loss of interest or pleasure in activities you normally enjoy.
New moms with depression may have trouble caring for their baby. They might not want to spend time with their baby, which can lead to a baby who cries a lot.
How does depression affect pregnant women?
If you have depression while you’re pregnant, you may have trouble caring for yourself.
Depression during pregnancy can also lead to:
- delivering before the due date (preterm),
- giving birth to a small baby (low birth weight).
If depression during pregnancy isn’t treated, it can lead to postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is a serious condition that can last for months after giving birth. It can affect your health and how well you bond with your baby.
What’s the difference between “baby blues” and postpartum depression?
The “baby blues” is a mild form of postpartum depression that many new moms experience. It usually starts 1 to 3 days after the birth and can last for 10 days to a few weeks. With “baby blues”, many women have mood swings—happy one minute and crying the next. They may feel anxious, confused, or have trouble eating or sleeping. Up to 80% of new moms have the “baby blues”. It’s common, and it will go away on its own.
About 13% of new mothers experience postpartum depression, which is more serious and lasts longer. You are at a greater risk if you have a family history of depression or have had depression before.
Some of the symptoms include:
- feeling like you can’t care for your baby,
- extreme anxiety or panic attacks,
- trouble making decisions,
- feeling very sad,
- hopelessness, and
- feeling out of control.
No one knows exactly what causes postpartum depression. If you think you have the symptoms, it’s important to get help right away. Postpartum depression needs to be treated. Talk to your doctor or call your local public health office.
If I’m depressed, will it affect my children?
Depression is treatable. But if it is not treated, it will affect your children.
Moms who are depressed may have trouble caring for their children. They may be loving one minute and withdrawn the next. They may respond to their child in a negative way or not respond at all. Your feelings and your behaviour will affect your ability to care for your children.
Depression can also affect attachment, which is important for your child’s development. Attachment is a deep emotional bond that a baby forms with the person who provides most of his care. A “secure attachment” develops quite naturally. A mother responds to her crying infant, offering whatever she feels her baby needs—feeding, a diaper change, cuddling. Secure attachment helps protect against stress and is an important part of a baby’s long-term emotional health. It makes a baby feel safe and secure, and helps him learn to trust others.
If you’re depressed, you may have trouble being loving and caring with your baby all the time. This can lead to an “insecure attachment,” which can cause problems later in childhood.