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Perinatal depression: causes, symptoms and tips to overcome it

Perinatal depression: causes, symptoms and tips to overcome it

February 14, 2024

Pregnancy is a period marked by illusions, but also by suffering . Some mothers experience, shortly before or after childbirth, what is known as perinatal depression (DPN) .

This form of depression that can be especially tragic for both her and the child is a peculiar manifestation that requires a different treatment of major depression, as it has its own characteristics. We explain the keys to understand it and review the most effective treatments.

  • Recommended article: "Are there several types of depression?"

Perinatal depression, more than postpartum

For a while now, psychologists have expanded the definition of what was previously labeled as depression with postpartum initiation.

We know that depression can begin a few months before delivery and that it is the same phenomenon that will follow the mood of the mother during the year after giving birth.

Clinical description

Perinatal depression includes any minor or major depressive episode that occurs during pregnancy or within 12 months after delivery . There is a certain degree of uncertainty regarding the incidence of the disorder. Several studies agree on prevalence rates that range between 10-15%. However, when excluding studies where the diagnosis is based only on self-reports, rates of 6.5% to 12.9% are achieved. It is a global phenomenon, not exclusive to Western society.


Mothers who suffer from it feel extremely guilty, some even hate their child. They feel lonely and overwhelmed, they need help and they do not know how to ask for it. They are full of ruminative thoughts, sticky beliefs that they find very difficult to get rid of and that seriously obstruct their lives.

Women with perinatal depression are in a period of transition from role, from women to mothers , which is difficult to assume. Likewise, difficulties in communicating with a partner can further aggravate the feeling of being completely alone.

The severity of the disorder is not limited to how incapacitating it can be for the person who suffers it. Maternal perinatal depression is associated with a higher incidence of excessive crying in the child, colic, sleep problems, temperamental difficulties, worse self-regulation and more stress indicators. It is also associated with negative mother-child interactions, including detachment, withdrawal, intrusion, and hostility, as well as worse interpersonal functioning of the infant, insecure attachment, and high rates of behavioral and emotional problems.

The main risk factor for undergoing perinatal depression is inadequate social support. The danger is increased by different deficiencies in social support such as:

  • Not having someone similar with whom to talk openly.
  • Not having friends or intimate relationships.
  • Do not receive support without having to ask for it.
  • Feeling socially isolated

Treatment and advice

A very common characteristic in perinatal depression is that mothers feel ashamed of suffering from depression, so much so that they do not ask for help. For this, it is especially important to normalize perinatal depression .

Anyone can suffer an emotional disorder, especially during a difficult period such as pregnancy and the enormous change that involves in family life. The arrival of a child always marks a before and after.

1. Psychoeducation and activation

The first stone in overcoming perinatal depression is set when the mother understands what happens to her and why it happens. Once this is done, you can start planning a whole series of activities that will start it up and make it feel useful again.

2. Learning to be a mother

One of the main concerns of mothers with perinatal depression is not living up to and being a "bad mother" . The truth is that no mother learns by magic, and some people can cost more than others. In addition to attacking these thoughts, it will be vitally important that mothers learn to feel comfortable interacting with their baby.

A good way to achieve this may be to attend workshops that teach you how to play with your baby, how to handle difficult situations (incessant crying, tantrums, etc.) or problems when eating. Support groups can be very helpful when proposing alternative behaviors that promote the optimal relationship with the baby.

3. Working with the social support network and communication

Because perinatal depression is a markedly social disorder, it is vital to identify patterns of communication that are not working. It will be necessary for both the mother and the father to learn to relate and communicate what they think in a clear way and without accusations.If we achieve this we will achieve two things: that the mother can ask for and receive help, and stop feeling completely alone and overwhelmed.

The support groups are a very important network in this aspect . Being able to talk with other mothers who are going through the same process, sharing their own experiences and receiving advice from other women will make them feel sheltered and better prepared to face motherhood.

4. Role transitions

Motherhood is difficult to incorporate . Role change can mean the loss of personal meaning, from a working woman to a simple mother.

It will be very important to recover those activities that were part of the mother's identity. Identify those reinforcers that existed before the baby as the feeling of doing a good job or enjoy an afternoon with friends, as well as find opportunities within the new routine to incorporate them again.

Likewise, there may be a conflict between long-term goals (for example, between family and work). Sometimes it will be necessary to rethink the goals and restructure them to make them as harmonious as they are realistic.

5. Attacking maladaptive thoughts

As in any emotional disorder, we're going to have to work through cognitive techniques the thoughts that instead of helping , they anchor people in the depths of depression.

Mothers must learn to identify in what situations they appear and acquire strategies to get ahead of them or know how to neutralize them when they appear with more adaptive thoughts and adjusted to reality.

In addition, it is especially important to acquire the habit of thinking about problems only if it is to solve them. It is very easy to get stuck in the emotional discomfort caused by worries, but the only way out of these quicksand is to take a distance and remind yourself that in the face of a problem there is no other way out than to find a solution.

Updates on Postpartum Anxiety and Depression - Stanford Children's Health (February 2024).

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