What is depression?
Depression can be described as feeling sad, blue, unhappy, miserable, or down in the dumps. Most of us feel this way at one time or another for short periods. But true clinical depression is a mood disorder in which feelings of sadness, loss, anger, or frustration interfere with everyday life for an extended time. Depression can be mild, moderate, or severe. The degree of depression, which your doctor can determine, influences how you are treated.
How common is depression during and after pregnancy?
Depression that occurs during pregnancy or within a year after delivery is called perinatal depression. The exact number of women with depression during this time is unknown. But researchers believe that depression is one of the most common complications during and after pregnancy. Often, the depression is not recognized or treated, because some normal pregnancy changes cause similar symptoms and are happening at the same time. Tiredness, problems sleeping, stronger emotional reactions, and changes in body weight may occur during pregnancy and after pregnancy. But these symptoms may also be signs of depression.
What causes depression?
There may be a number of reasons why a woman gets depressed. Hormone changes or a stressful life event, such as a death in the family, can cause chemical changes in the brain that lead to depression. Depression is also an illness that runs in some families. Other times, it's not clear what causes depression.
During pregnancy, these factors may increase a woman's chance of depression:
Depression after pregnancy is called postpartum depression or peripartum depression. After pregnancy, hormonal changes in a woman's body may trigger symptoms of depression. During pregnancy, the amount of two female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, in a woman's body increases greatly. In the first 24 hours after childbirth, the amount of these hormones rapidly drops back down to their normal non-pregnant levels. Researchers think the fast change in hormone levels may lead to depression, just as smaller changes in hormones can affect a woman's moods before she gets her menstrual period.
Occasionally, levels of thyroid hormones may also drop after giving birth. The thyroid is a small gland in the neck that helps to regulate your metabolism (how your body uses and stores energy from food). Low thyroid levels can cause symptoms of depression including depressed mood, decreased interest in things, irritability, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, sleep problems, and weight gain. A simple blood test can tell if this condition is causing a woman's depression. If so, thyroid medicine can be prescribed by a doctor.
Other factors that may contribute to postpartum depression include: