Depression During Pregnancy Is Common

A new government report is shining a spotlight on the prevalence of depression during pregnancy.

"The available research suggests that depression is one of the most common complications of the prenatal and post-partum periods," says the report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

Roughly one in 20 women experience major depression during pregnancy or in the first year after giving birth. Depression is just as common during pregnancy as it is after giving birth, says an AHRQ news release.

Health experts urge anyone with depression to seek help, whether they're male or female, young or old, or pregnant or not.

'Wake-Up Call' on Depression During Pregnancy

"This report should serve as a wake-up call to health care providers as well as women and their family members," says AHRQ director Carolyn Clancy, MD, in the news release.

"The belief that depression is mostly a problem for women following childbirth is a myth stemming from the fact that post-partum depression has been studied more thoroughly," says Clancy. "Enhanced detection of depression by primary care doctors and obstetrician-gynecologists can help improve women's quality of care."

Up to 11 percent Have Some Form of Depression

Government researchers reviewed dozens of studies to determine the numbers on depression during pregnancy and the first 12 months after birth.

Estimates ranged from 3 percent to 5 percent for major depression during pregnancy, and from 1 percent to 6 percent in the first year after giving birth.

When including minor depression -- a serious but less severe form of depression -- estimates rose to 8.5 percent to 11 percent during pregnancy and 6.5 percent to 13 percent during the first year after giving birth.

More Likely Than Usual?

Women of similar age who weren't pregnant and hadn't recently given birth have similar amounts of depression, says the report.

However, one study showed the likelihood of major depression was three times greater for women who had given birth in the last five weeks, compared with a similar group of women who were not new moms.

"Thus, data from this one study suggest that, after an event as psychologically and physiologically stressful as labor and delivery, the likelihood of a new episode of depression may be substantially higher than in a likely less stressed group of women of a similar age," says the AHRQ report.

Depression Is Common

No one knows exactly why depression strikes, but there's one thing that health experts know for sure: Depression can be treated, and not enough people reach out for help.

Nearly 19 million U.S. adults per year have depression, says the National Institute for Mental Health. That figure -- 9.5 percent of the population -- includes men and women of all ages.

"Pregnancy and new motherhood may increase the risk of depressive episodes," the AHRQ's report notes. Depression during pregnancy and after can have devastating consequences, not only for the women experiencing it but also for the women's children and family.

Treatments Available

Of nine studies tracking depression treatment, only one looked at antidepressant medications. That's not enough to draw conclusions, says the report. Six studies showed that psychotherapy helped.

"These results, although limited, do suggest that providing some form of psychosocial support to pregnant women at risk of having a depressive illness may decrease depressive symptoms," researchers write.

Much more research on the topic is needed, especially about depression during pregnancy and after in women of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, the report concludes.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

SOURCES: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: "Perinatal Depression: Prevalence, Screening Accuracy, and Screening Outcomes." News release, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. National Institute on Mental Health: "Depression."