Depression is a major cause of disability among women, particularly women of childbearing age. While there is little evidence that depression rates during pregnancy are higher than at other points in a woman’s life, pregnancy and the postpartum months are a period when some women may be particularly vulnerable to both major and minor depression. Perinatal depression includes major depressive episodes as well as minor depressive episodes (which are less severe but still impairing). These episodes begin during pregnancy or within the first 12 months after delivery.

The exact prevalence of perinatal depression is unknown, and estimates range from 6.5 percent to 12.9 percent of new mothers. A systematic review of the studies that produced these estimates found that new episodes of major depression alone may occur in 3.1 to 4.9 percent of women at various times during pregnancy, and in 1.0 percent to 5.9 percent of women at different times during the first year after birth. Either major or minor depression may affect 8.5 to 11 percent of women during pregnancy, and 6.5 to 12.9 percent during the first year after birth. Many women continue to suffer from depressive episodes that began prior to pregnancy.

With training, physicians can screen women accurately for major depression alone, but screening for minor depression is more difficult. Little is known about the specific risk factors for perinatal depression or the warning signs that providers should watch for. Providing psychosocial support and counseling to pregnant women at risk of depression may be effective in decreasing symptoms of depression.

Graph: Estimated Prevalence of Perinatal Depression[d]