The importance of taking care of health during pregnancy is pretty well-known. For most women, this means giving up alcohol, modifying their diets to ensure proper nutrition for the growing baby, and stopping the use of medications that can be potentially harmful. What may not be as well understood, however, is the fact that mental health conditions can affect the baby while in the womb. Depression is a commonly studied mental health condition among pregnant women, but other mental health disorders may affect a baby’s development as well, making it important for pregnant women to seek treatment to address any mental health conditions they are experiencing.
Difference Between Depression and Postpartum Depression
Before jumping into the effects of depression during pregnancy, it is helpful to understand the difference between general depression and postpartum depression. Both depression during pregnancy and postpartum depression can negatively affect child development. As the Office on Women’s Health explains, postpartum depression refers to an incident of depression that occurs during the period after childbirth. It’s not unusual for women to experience “baby blues,” which are feelings of sadness that occur in the first few days after giving birth. If sadness persists for more than two weeks and is accompanied by other symptoms, such as excessive crying, feelings of being worthless or being a bad mother, and withdrawal from friends and loved ones, a mother may be suffering from postpartum depression. Unfortunately, experts report that postpartum depression can interfere with the attachment between mother and baby and lead to harsher parenting, which can negatively affect a baby’s developing social and cognitive skills.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, one out of every seven women experiences depression during pregnancy or after childbirth, so experts have begun to refer to depression during this time as peripartum depression. What differentiates these cases of depression from classic major depression is that they are related to pregnancy, and beyond usual depression symptoms, a woman who lives with peripartum depression may experience symptoms specifically related to motherhood, such as feeling anxious around the baby, having fears of harming the baby or being unable to bond with the baby.
Negative Effects of Depression During Pregnancy
There has been quite a bit of research on the negative effects of depression that occurs specifically during the postpartum period. For instance, as noted above, postpartum depression can interfere with attachment between mother and baby, and it may negatively affect a mother’s parenting skills. While postpartum depression is certainly a concern, it is also important to consider the negative effects of depression that occur during pregnancy, before a baby is even born.
A report that evaluated the results of 30 different studies found that maternal depression during pregnancy is associated with a slightly increased risk of premature birth, as well as a reduced likelihood of a mother initiating breastfeeding with her baby. Another report, which reviewed 10 studies across the globe, found that babies born to mothers who were depressed during pregnancy were more likely to be of low birth weight. The negative effects of depression during pregnancy are elevated among those in lower-income areas and in those with a lack of access to quality mental health services.
Unfortunately, the impact of depression during pregnancy is long-lasting. A recent report in the respected journal JAMA Pediatrics reviewed the results of 191 different studies that assessed the relationship between perinatal depression and child development and concluded that maternal depression and anxiety have a negative effect on social-emotional development, cognitive functioning, motor skills, language abilities, and adaptive behavior development in children, and these effects last through childhood and adolescence.
The Potential Impact of Other Mental Health Conditions
While depression is perhaps the most common condition affecting women during and immediately after pregnancy, it is not the only mental health disorder that can negatively affect a pregnancy. According to researchers writing for the medical journal Obstetrics, Gynaecology & Reproductive Medicine, other mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder can increase the risk of complications including miscarriage, poor fetal growth, preterm birth, and low birthweight.
There are actually physiological reasons behind the link between mental health conditions during pregnancy and negative effects on child development. For example, there are some substances in the body that contribute to both the function of the central nervous system and the development of the growing baby. If a mental health condition alters the functioning of the nervous system, there can also be effects on the placenta, and therefore, the baby.
What all of this means is that it is critical for mothers who have mental health conditions to discuss their mental health status with a physician and ensure that they are receiving quality care. By addressing mental health symptoms, you can reduce the potential negative impact on your growing baby.
Treatment for Depression During Pregnancy
It is essential for pregnant women to receive treatment for depression or other mental health conditions to reduce the risk of complications, but sometimes, the medications used to treat depression can be potentially harmful to a developing baby. If antidepressant medications are not an option during pregnancy, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is an approved depression treatment for pregnant women. According to medical experts, TMS is a safe option during pregnancy, as it is an alternative to medications. This form of treatment delivers electrical pulses to areas of the brain involved in mood.
For those in the Los Angeles area, Pulse TMS offers this service in convenient 18-minute sessions. We will work alongside any other services you are receiving, including psychotherapy, to help you manage depression symptoms during pregnancy. Contact our office today to discuss how we can be of benefit to you.