Postpartum Depression: Are You at Risk?Oct. 17, 2019
By Melissa Schafer
Pregnant women have a lot to think about when it comes to health. Every decision we make for ourselves directly impacts the health of our developing babies.
One medical condition that every woman should be prepared for, regardless of her health history, is postpartum depression, or PPD. Mental illness is a medical condition, no different from any other, with serious symptoms. And like other health concerns, mental illness can and should be treated at the onset of any symptoms.
Am I at risk for postpartum depression?
If you are a woman who is pregnant, you are at risk for experiencing PPD. According to the CDC, 8 to 19% of women report having postpartum depression symptoms, and as many as 80% of women will experience the “baby blues.”
By comparison, 5-8% of adults in the U.S. experience depression in a given year. There are a few factors that increase a woman’s risk for developing depression during pregnancy or postpartum. These include:
- A history of depression or other mood disorders outside of pregnancy (if you have been depressed in the past you are three times more likely than the average woman to experience postpartum depression)
- A history of postpartum depression specifically (this increases your risk by 70%).
Fight postpartum depression by making yourself a priority, too
As in many other areas of life, the best defense is a good offense. In this time of your life when all eyes are on your expanding belly and brand new bundle of joy, make sure to make your own health a top priority.
The last thing any pregnant woman wants to think about is yet another doctor’s appointment. But if you are at an elevated risk for PPD, you owe it to yourself to establish a relationship with a recommended mental health professional before you give birth.
If you’re not currently experiencing depression, you’ll likely only need to meet with a doctor two or three times during your pregnancy. These preventative appointments can help your doctor establish a baseline for your mental health. There are psychiatrists who specialize in treating women during pregnancy and postpartum. Ask your OB for a referral if you need one.
Your doctor will also meet with you and your partner toward the end of your pregnancy to ensure someone at home understands the warning signs of PPD, and the importance of prompt treatment. You’ll meet with your doctor again 4-6 weeks postpartum, to confirm you are still hanging in there.
Treating postpartum depression
There are options that are safe for you and your baby, including psychotherapy, bright light therapy and alternative medical treatments like acupuncture or supplements, as well as antidepressants.
Women are generally concerned about the safety of antidepressants during pregnancy, but it is important to remember that depression is a medical condition that sometimes requires medication. The risk of taking any medication must be weighed against the risk of not taking it, whether it’s for treating high blood pressure, depression or any medical condition.
Don’t ignore the warning signs of postpartum depression
Do not ignore the warning signs and outward symptoms of depression simply because you are afraid of potential treatments or being labeled. It is important to understand that the risk to a child from living with a depressed mother is just as real as the risk of taking an antidepressant.
If you suspect you, or someone you know, might be suffering from postpartum depression or any mental illness, consult a trusted mental health professional and face it head-on.
Melissa Schafer is Director of Global Marketing and Employer Health Solutions at Houston Methodist. She is originally from northern Virginia. She spent her entire life within 100 miles of Washington, DC until she and her husband Eric moved to Houston several years ago. Now a proud Texan, she enjoys the marathon balancing act of being a full-time working mom.