HEALTH STATUS >
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.