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Depression in Pregnancy

It may pose serious risks for mother and baby. But effective treatments are available.

woman looking sad or depressed

Depression during pregnancy is common. One study found that about one in eight pregnant women experience depression. Such depression can pose serious risks for both mother and baby.

Women who are depressed may have trouble taking good care of themselves. They may not eat well. Or, they may skip prenatal checkups. They are also at increased risk of smoking, drinking alcohol or misusing drugs.

Because of the serious consequences, recognizing depression is vital.

Symptoms of depression

How do you know if you or someone you care about is depressed? Some symptoms may include:

  • Change in appetite (eating more or less than usual)
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Depressed mood
  • Loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable
  • Feelings of guilt or hopelessness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Suicidal thoughts or recurrent thoughts of death

If you have any of these symptoms, tell your doctor right away. If you have thoughts of hurting yourself or others, call your health care professional, 911 or a suicide hotline such as 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433), or have someone drive you to the nearest emergency department.

If you feel that you are in immediate danger of hurting yourself or someone else, Call 911 or your local emergency services immediately.

Who is at risk?

Some factors may make a person more susceptible to depression. Some of those risk factors include:

  • Having experienced depression or mental illness in the past, especially in a previous pregnancy
  • Family history of depression
  • Stressful life events like a death or illness
  • Problems with your partner including domestic violence
  • Little support from loved ones
  • Financial troubles
  • Lifestyle habits like smoking, drinking and using drugs

Treatment choices

Your doctor can work with you to treat your depression. Depending on your history and the extent of your depression, you may be referred to a psychiatrist or other options including:

  • Counseling. This can be done either on an individual basis or through support groups.
  • Medications. Some research shows that taking an antidepressant during pregnancy may put your baby at risk. But if you’ve been taking an antidepressant, it may be harmful to you to stop taking it. So talk with your provider about the best way to treat your depression while keeping you and your baby safe.
  • Electroconvulsive therapy involves the use of electric current in the brain. It has proven to be an effective treatment for severe depression. It is considered safe during pregnancy.

If you're taking an antidepressant and become pregnant, don't quit taking your medications on your own. Make sure to talk to your health care provider about the pros and cons of continuing or discontinuing your medication, as well as your options.

By John Welsh, Contributing Writer

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Depression during pregnancy: Treatment recommendations. Accessed: June 16, 2016.
National Institute of Mental Health. Depression in women: How is depression treated? Accessed: June 16, 2016.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Depressing during and after pregnancy: A resource for women, their families and friends. Accessed: June 16, 2016.
Control and Prevention. Mental health among women of reproductive age. Accessed: June 16, 2016.

Last Updated: June 20, 2016