Prenatal Depression: What Is It and How Can It Be Treated

Prenatal Depression: What Is It and How Can It Be Treated

Prenatal depression is something that strikes millions of women around the world, and as many as 23% of women who conceive suffer from this type of clinical depression. Whether they enter pregnancy already depressed or they develop prenatal depression, the consequences of pregnancy-related depression can be serious. Not only can the internal functioning of a woman’s body be affected by pregnancy depression, but if the depression continues untreated, the condition of the fetus itself can be negatively affected by prenatal depression.

Women who suffer from prenatal depression tend to have inadequate self-care, difficulties with eating appropriately, and problems gaining enough weight for the wellbeing of the pregnancy.  They often have more than usual pregnancy-related difficulties sleeping, and can be irritable, anxious, and overwhelmed.  Prenatal depression is linked to preterm labor and low birth weight of babies, increased risk of delayed child development and neurobehavioral problems. Women that suffer from prenatal depression often experience postpartum depression as well, which can be the most serious depression a woman can have, at a time when she is most needed by the baby and her family.

Fortunately, there is hope for those suffering from pregnancy related depression, or prenatal depression, with many different treatment choices.

Treatment for Prenatal Depression


There are many treatments that women suffering from prenatal depression can opt for, and psychotherapy is the simplest form of treatment for mild to moderate prenatal depression. These treatments include psychodynamic psychotherapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, supportive psychotherapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy, among others.  Psychotherapy has proven to be effective in helping some women combat their pregnancy depression, but antidepressant medication is often required to handle the more serious forms of prenatal depression or depression that is incompletely responsive to psychotherapy.

Antidepressant Medications.

There are a number of antidepressant medications that can help women counteract their prenatal depression. These include SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and older TCAs, or tricyclic antidepressants.  Lately, over the past several years, however, a growing number of inconsistent studies suggest that the use of medications, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), for pregnancy depression may be riskier than once believed.

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

While electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) can be used in extreme circumstances to treat severe prenatal depression, and can be quite effective, it does involve the use of electric stimuli to intentionally induce a seizure, which necessitates anesthesia and can cause headaches and memory loss; The memory loss is usually temporary, but sometimes is not.   If it is medically necessary, the benefits of ECT can exceed the risks in severe prenatal depression, when a psychiatrist oversees the ECT, an anesthesiologist carefully supervises the procedure, and when a highly trained obstetrician closely monitors uterine contractions and other parameters during the procedure.  Close external fetal monitoring after the procedure is also important.

Important To Treat Prenatal Depression

It is important for women to seek help when dealing with suspected prenatal depression, and doctors and psychiatrists should keep a close eye on pregnant women to determine if they are developing depression. Treating the depression before it develops into something serious is imperative to promote a healthy pregnancy.

Seek professional care if you are suffering from depression during pregnancy;  there are many treatment options available to you.  The risk of a potentially serious postpartum depression and other emotional disorders increases when prenatal depression is left untreated

  • Article content, © Kira Stein, MD, APC. | West Coast Life Center

The content on this webpage is for general information only and is not intended to be professional medical, legal, or other advice for any specific situation or individual. It is intended that individuals and their families will find this information useful when discussing issues and consulting with a qualified health professional.

Kira Stein, MD, APC are not responsible for links to external web pages or sites that have changed or present inaccurate information at the time of review. Information and links found on this site are intended to help educate patients about psychiatric conditions and treatments and in no way should be construed as treatment directions or recommendations for any individual person.

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