Maternal Depression

Having a baby can be one of the biggest and happiest events in a woman's life. While life with a new baby can be exciting and rewarding, it can also be stressful at times. Many physical and emotional changes can happen during pregnancy and after having a baby. These changes can make pregnant women and new mothers feel sad, anxious, overwhelmed, or confused.

These feelings are very common. For many women, these feelings will go away quickly. When these feelings last for several weeks, or get worse over time, you may need professional help.

Maternal depression can happen during pregnancy ("prenatal depression") or after the baby is born ("postpartum depression"). With treatment, maternal depression is a temporary mental health problem – it is not the same as depression.

The "baby blues"

Many women may have minor symptoms of depression during the first two weeks after delivery. These "baby blues" affect up to 4 out of 5 new moms. Symptoms can include:

  • Tiredness and exhaustion, even after getting sleep
  • Feeling overwhelmed or anxious
  • Frustration or irritability
  • Sadness or crying
  • Mood swings – going from happy to sad for no apparent reason
  • Difficulty concentrating

The baby blues usually go away in a couple of weeks without treatment. Talking with friends, family, other mothers, or your health care provider can help.

Six Things to Know about Maternal Depression

One. Maternal depression is quite common.

  • Up to 1 in 7 new moms has some sort of pregnancy-related mood or anxiety disorder.
  • Maternal depression can affect any pregnant woman or new mom, regardless of age, income, race, ethnicity or education.

Two. There are many possible symptoms.

Symptoms vary from person to person, and how strong they are. Some symptoms include:

  • Feeling sad
  • Feeling overwhelmed or anxious
  • Feeling guilty or inadequate
  • Mood swings – highs and lows
  • Not enjoying things that used to be enjoyable
  • Changes in sleeping and eating habits
  • Excessive worrying about the baby
  • Hallucinations – seeing or hearing things that aren't there
  • Thoughts of harming self or the baby

More intense feelings, like hallucinations, thoughts of harming yourself or the baby, or suicide, are signs of a serious emergency. If you or a loved one have these thoughts, call 911.

Three. Symptoms can appear any time during pregnancy and up to a year after delivery.

  • Prenatal depression happens during pregnancy.
  • The "baby blues" typically happen shortly after delivery, and can last up to a couple of weeks.
  • Postpartum depression happens after delivery. It can last several weeks. Without treatment, postpartum depression can get worse over time.

Four. Maternal depression is not your fault.

  • Maternal depression is common and treatable.
  • Your medical history and how your body reacts to stress or hormones can cause maternal depression.
  • Friends, family, and co-workers can provide support for you and your baby and help you through maternal depression.

Five. Getting treatment sooner is better.

  • Your physical and emotional health affect your baby's health and development.
  • Treatment options include therapy (talking with a trained professional) and various medicines (including medicine that is safe during pregnancy or while breastfeeding).
  • In addition to therapy and medicine, some women find that support groups, meditation, physical activity, and healthy eating can help them cope with stress and reduce symptoms of maternal depression.

Six. Help is available.

  • If you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, or if you are hallucinating, this is a medical emergency. Call 9-1-1.
  • Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  • Start by talking with your health care provider or OB/GYN. They can connect you with trained professionals to help get you through what you are feeling.
  • Check out additional resources (section link below) for more ways to get help.

Additional Resources

To learn more about maternal depression, or to get help, visit the following websites or call the following hotlines:

Emergency Resources

If a woman is thinking about harming herself or her infant, help is needed immediately. If there is imminent danger to someone's life, call 911.

For women in crisis who need help, hotlines are available as resources for both health care providers and families:

  • Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Parental Stress Hotline – Help for Parents: 1-800-632-8188
  • Crisis Text Line: Text “Got5’ to 741741
  • New York State Suicide Prevention

For Friends and Family: Helping Someone with Maternal Depression

Friends and family may be the first to recognize symptoms of maternal depression. You can encourage her to talk with a health care provider, offer emotional support, and help with daily tasks such as caring for the baby or helping around the house. Your support can make a huge difference.

If you know someone who is in crisis, is thinking about harming herself or her baby, or is thinking of suicide, get help quickly.

  • Call 911 for emergency services, or go to the nearest emergency room.
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1800-273-TALK (8255). It is toll-free and available 24-hours. TTY: 1800-799-4889.

For more information and tips on how to help, visit the National Child and Maternal Health Education Network.