The pregnant glow—we've all seen it. Maybe it was a friend, a few months from her due date, looking gorgeous and radiant. Perhaps the woman behind you in line at the grocery store looked about ready to pop, but was still glowing.
Then there is the joy of a new baby. When you can't stop looking at those tiny fingers and counting those precious little toes. When you stay awake at night, just to watch that sweet little bundle of joy sleep. You feel an intense love, but you may, just as intensely, feel overwhelmed. Women may struggle with their emotions during this period. Some may feel sad and not understand why. A few may be diagnosed with postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression is a type of depression that affects women after giving birth. Feeling sad or having 'the blues' after childbirth is not uncommon, but if this depressed mood continues for several days or weeks, it becomes postpartum depression.
Childbirth has profound biological, social, and psychological effects. These effects do not just occur after birth, women experience changes in their body and mind from the moment of conception. Researchers at Bristol University in England focused on how mood is affected both during and after pregnancy. The results of their study were published in 2001 in the British Medical Journal.
The study involved more than 9,000 pregnant women. Two questionnaires that evaluate mood and identify depression were used—the Edinburgh postnatal depression scale and the Crown Crisp experiential index depression subscale. The women completed the surveys at 18 and 32 weeks of pregnancy and at eight weeks and eight months postpartum.
The scores showed the highest level of depression at 32 weeks of pregnancy and the lowest at eight months postpartum. The proportion of women with probable depression was as follows:
The study's authors note that self-reporting questionnaires, such as those used here, do not provide a clinical diagnosis of depression. However, the values are consistent with the percentage of women that report depression at other times of life, which is 10%-15%. This research brings to light the need to seek out and identify depression during pregnancy, as well as after delivery. The study's authors point out that although it is unclear how, the mood state of the mother may have an important affect on the uterine environment and the developing baby.
Women who are feeling depressed should consider talking to their doctor. Their doctor may be able to refer them to a professional who specializes in women and depression.
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
American Psychological Association
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Women's Health Matters
Evans J, et al. Cohort study of depressed mood during pregnancy and after childbirth.Br Med J. 2001;323:257-260.