Up to 20 percent of women may experience depressive symptoms at some point during pregnancy, and up to a year after giving birth. It isn t a flaw or a weakness and it is something that needs to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, many women face a conundrum when deciding whether to take antidepressants during their pregnancy.
The largest study to date on postpartum depressive symptoms was published recently in Lancet Psychiatry. The study included more than 8,200 mothers from 19 institutions in 7 countries. Some were diagnosed with postpartum depression by clinicians, and some were assessed by a widely-used questionnaire (Edinburgh postnatal depression scale). Many of the women in the study were included in both groups.
The women were divided into classes based on the severity of their symptoms severe, moderate, and mild. Many important and unexpected links were found between the timing and severity of symptoms. For instance, in two-thirds of women who fell into the severest symptoms category (including thoughts of suicide and comorbid anxiety), depression often began during pregnancy, not after giving birth.
Also, most moderately depressed women reported that their depressive symptoms developed postpartum. However, the moderately depressed women were more likely than the severely depressed women to have experienced pregnancy complications (including pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, and hypertension). On the other hand, severely depressed women more often reported complications during delivery.
The findings raise many scientific questions including whether there are differing biological factors affecting women with different levels of maternal depression and co-author Dr. Meltzer-Brody and colleagues plan to seek answers through DNA collection. The study and future follow up studies could also lead to potential new treatments, as well as discovering causes and determining if specific women may be at risk.