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Why Does Perinatal Depression Occur?

Most people are at least aware of Postpartum Depression (PPD). However, fewer recognize perinatal depression, what it looks like, and why it might occur. Perinatal refers to the period of time when you first become pregnant and lasts throughout your pregnancy and even up to a year after giving birth. Obviously, if you’re experiencing depression after giving birth, you’re more likely to be diagnosed with PPD. But what if you’re feeling depressed while pregnant?

Let’s take a closer look at perinatal depression and why it tends to affect some women more than others.

What Causes Perinatal Depression?

There isn’t just one cause or risk factor that contributes to perinatal depression. Rather, several factors can come into play and make you more likely to experience it. Some women are at greater risk, including those who:

  • Have a family history of mental health issues

  • Are dealing with a difficult pregnancy

  • Have had birth trauma in the past

  • Don’t have a support system

  • Are going through an unwanted pregnancy

Even if you aren’t at risk, the sudden hormonal changes associated with pregnancy can trigger depression. Some mood changes are okay, but depression is a completely different animal. Understanding what’s normal and what’s considered extreme sadness is important.

The Diagnosis Problem

Unfortunately, that’s a big issue when it comes to perinatal depression. It’s not always easy to diagnose since some doctors will simply think you’re dealing with mood swings. When you’re experiencing it, though, you should be able to recognize the difference. Mood swings come and go. Depression lingers.

Familiarize yourself with some of the common signs of perinatal depression so you can talk to your doctor about what you’re experiencing. Some of the most notable symptoms include persistent sadness, feeling “empty,” or experiencing thoughts about harming yourself or the baby.

You might also experience symptoms like:

  • Fatigue

  • Irritability

  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness

  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns

  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering

Obviously, any physical symptoms you’re experiencing should be looked at by your doctor. Ruling out any medical conditions is important when you’re pregnant. But it also gives you the opportunity to speak with them about your concerns and your mental well-being. Since perinatal depression often goes undiagnosed, you must be your advocate when you know you’re not experiencing the typical “baby blues.”

Treating Perinatal Depression

If you’re dealing with Postpartum Depression (PPD), there’s good news—it typically goes away on its own. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get treatment for it. The sooner you treat it, the faster you can move forward. Perinatal depression is a bit different.

When you’re pregnant, you have to think about more than just yourself. Dealing with the symptoms of perinatal depression can impact both you and your unborn child. If you don’t treat it properly, you could be putting your baby’s health at risk. So, what can you do?

Therapy is often the best way to manage the effects of perinatal depression. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help you adjust your thinking, which will positively impact your behaviors. You’ll learn how to challenge unhelpful thoughts that could be damaging to you or the baby.

Pregnancy is a life-changing, incredible experience. But it can also be very overwhelming. When you’re dealing with depression on top of it, it’s easy to feel lonely and scared. Working with a mental health professional will give you the support you need as you learn to manage your depression. Therapy can also serve as a reminder that you’re not alone.


If you’re struggling with the effects of perinatal depression—even if you haven’t been diagnosed—feel free to contact me to set up an appointment soon. I offer a free 15 minute phone consultation for all new clients.


Jennifer Perera is a mom of two boys, a spouse and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She is also Certified as a Perinatal Mental Health Professional by Postpartum Support International. She has a private practice in Springfield, New Jersey and also sees clients throughout New Jersey , New York, and Pennsylvania via telehealth. Her passion is helping new moms and dads find their joy again in parenthood through individual and couples counseling. She also runs workshops for new parents, teaching them techniques and strategies to help them have a stronger relationship - built to thrive during the parenthood years. Jennifer specializes in working with parents during the prenatal and postpartum periods and those coping with grief or loss issues surrounding pregnancy.


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