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Am I at Risk for Maternal Depression?

By Valerie M. Kading, NP, MSN

Am I at Risk for Maternal Depression?

1 in 6 moms experience some form of depression during pregnancy. Before you even get pregnant, or if you’re pregnant now, here’s what you need to know about maternal depression and its effects on you and your baby.

Depression during pregnancy can affect not only your health, but baby’s too, including baby’s birth outcomes. There is no one single cause for depression in pregnancy, also called maternal depression.

Maternal Depression Risk Factors

Experts say the following factors increase your risks of depression during pregnancy:

  • History of depression or anxiety: Depression during a past pregnancy or any time before pregnancy can put you at a higher risk for experiencing depression during and after pregnancy
  • Stressful circumstances: Big life events, like losing a significant partner or loved one, divorce or losing a job can lead to depression
  • No support: Being on your own without family or friends or a partner for support can lead to sadness, loneliness and maternal depression
  • Struggling financially: Especially if you’re lower income
  • Ethnicity: African American and Hispanic women experience maternal depression more so than women of other ethnicities. For African-American women, as many as 1 in 3 experience depression in pregnancy; the same is true for lower-income Hispanic women
  • Being a teen: Not only are teens changing physically and emotionally, pregnancy during the teen years can also create family issues, lowering a teen’s self-esteem

What If I Have Some Risk Factors?

Maternal depression is a complex health challenge; there are many triggers, which is why it’s important to discuss any of the mentioned risk factors with your pregnancy care provider, and to get mental health care if you have any risk factors for depression in pregnancy.

Secondly, replace risky behaviors, like using tobacco, alcohol or drugs in pregnancy with healthy habits, like seeking support from others, and being part of a community of women also experiencing pregnancy. Having risk factors doesn’t always mean you’ll experience maternal depression. If you’re concerned about any of the risk factors, ask your nurse for advice and specific actions you can take to reduce your risks.

What Are the Risks for Me & My Baby?

Untreated, maternal depression can lead to postpartum depression and potential risks to your baby. Those risks include:

  • premature labor
  • poor bonding between you and baby
  • developmental delays in baby

In the longer term, your baby may experience psychological and developmental delays, be born with a low birth weight or born before full term, and be small for their birth date.

Depression in pregnancy can also lead to postpartum depression (PPD). Children whose moms experienced PPD can struggle with school and have trouble making friends and getting along with others. Researchers have measured lower language skills in toddlers when their mothers had PPD during their first year of life.

Reduce Your Risks for Maternal Depression

  • Be healthy: Eat healthy meals, avoid alcohol and illegal drugs, follow your pregnancy care provider’s recommendations for exercise and get at least 7-8 hours of good sleep each night
  • Be resilient:Promote healthy relationships, set appropriate boundaries with others, practice mindfulness, meditate, and try prenatal massage (as recommended by your health care provider)
  • Ask for support: Reach out to your partner, family and friends. Set regular dates with people that you’re close with; avoid isolation. If you’ve experienced a recent stressful life event, seek the assistance of a counselor or therapist
  • Manage stress: Be as strong as possible emotionally and physically before pregnancy. Keep stress low
  • Tell your provider if you’ve ever had depression especially in pregnancy and discuss any other risk factors that concern you
  • Find local support groups at Postpartum.net

Valerie M. Kading, NP, MSN, Associate Director of Medical Operations at Sierra Tucson hospital and behavioral residential treatment center in Tucson, AZ.


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