LONDON — Depression is at least as common during pregnancy as it is after childbirth, and should be diagnosed because it may be harmful to the baby, new research indicates.
While doctors are careful to spot and treat postnatal depression, they are not so vigilant about looking out for depression during pregnancy because they don’t expect to see it, said the study’s lead investigator, Jonathan Evans, a senior lecturer in psychiatry at Bristol University in England.
"This will be a surprise to many, because most people think that women are protected from depression during pregnancy, that it is a time of emotional well-being," agreed Dr. Ruta Nonacs, a perinatal psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston who was not involved in the study. "But this shows that over 10 percent of women have depression during pregnancy — the same as at any point in their lives."
Previous studies have suggested that depression and anxiety during pregnancy may be linked to low birth weight, premature birth and reduced blood flow in the womb.
Evans called for urgent research to clarify the potential consequences to the baby of a mother’s depression during pregnancy.
Postnatal depression is different from the "baby blues," a transient tearfulness that afflicts most women in the first few days following childbirth.
A more severe mental illness after childbirth called postpartum psychosis, which affects about one in 1,000 women after delivery, can in extreme cases involve mothers harming their children. It usually strikes in the first two weeks to one month after delivery.
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