Peripartum Depression: More Common Than You May Realize

In pregnancy, we pay much attention to the physical health of expectant mothers. Healthier mothers tend to give birth to heathier babies. Did you know that maternal mental health can be as important as maternal physical health for the development of newborns?

Peripartum Depression: What is it?

Peripartum depression (depression during pregnancy or in the months following pregnancy) affects one in seven pregnant/postpartum mothers. Untreated peripartum depression negatively affects mother-child bonding and can have serious and lasting effects on newborn physical and intellectual development. Furthermore, peripartum depression can affect the mother’s emotional wellbeing, sleep, concentration, and energy levels, making it difficult for her to care for herself and her child/children.

Unfortunately, family members, friends, and even health care providers often miss peripartum depression, for a number of reasons. These reasons may include: social stigma surrounding the discussion of mental health, a lack of awareness of how commonly the condition occurs, missed opportunities for screening at routine healthcare visits, etc.

Peripartum Depression: Underreported by Women

Further complicating matters, only 20 percent of women with symptoms of peripartum depression will self-report them to their healthcare provider. Fortunately, validated screening tools are available for healthcare providers (and the public) to aid in identifying mothers with peripartum depression.

Two examples are:

  1. The Patient Health Questionaire-9 can be used at any time (for men or women; pregnant or not) to screen for depression.
  2. As the name suggests, the Ediburgh Postpartum Depression Scale can be used for diagnosis of postpartum depression, but specifically in postpartum mothers.

Peripartum depression can be confused with the more common, but benign, condition called “Baby Blues.” If you remember the following differences, they may help you identify a friend or family member with peripartum depression.

Baby Blues Symptoms

  • Occurs in up to 80 percent of postpartum mothers.
  • Starts within days of delivery, and lasts only 10-14 days.
  • Minimally, if at all, affects function and cognitive abilities of the mother.
  • Not associated with suicidal or infanticidal thoughts.

Peripartum Depression Symptoms

  • Occurs in up to 15 percent of pregnant/postpartum mothers. (It can also affect fathers, partners and other parents and caretakers)
  • Can start during or within the six months following pregnancy.
  • Lasts greater than 14 days.
  • Affects function (e.g, energy, motivation, concentration and appetite)
  • Associated with suicidal and infanticidal thoughts.

If you know someone who may be suffering from Peripartum depression (or aren’t sure), please refer them to a healthcare professional, who can assist with diagnosis and treatment. Peripartum depression is quite treatable with psychotherapy and/or medications.

For more information, please visit:

John V. Chisholm III, MD, full-spectrum family physician, practices at the University of Vermont Medical Center – Family Medicine Colchester. He has admitting privileges at the University of Vermont Medical Center’s Birthing Center, and is an Assistant Professor at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM.

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