If you suffer from depression and plan to become pregnant, you may be understandably concerned about the effect of depression and treatment on your unborn child. It may help to know you are not alone. Studies show that up to 12 percent of pregnant women also experience depression.

Women with a history of major depression are in danger of a relapse during pregnancy, especially if they discontinue antidepressants. Younger women and those who are ambivalent about their pregnancy are also at higher risk for depression. Limited social support, marital conflict, and already having several children all increase the probability of pregnancy-related depression.

The Risks

Although there are small, but significant, risks of antidepressant use during pregnancy, there are also considerable risks to both mother and baby when the mother's depression is not treated.

Women suffering from depression are less likely to seek prenatal care during their pregnancy and may experience complications. For example, depression in early pregnancy doubles women's risk for preterm delivery. This risk rises as the degree of depression escalates. Preterm deliveries are serious; they are the leading cause of infant death and illness. Physicians suspect that depression may influence levels of hormones in the placenta, which increases risk for preterm delivery.

Depressed women are also more likely to self-medicate with alcohol, narcotic drugs, or over-the-counter medications. This poses a dual health risk: self-medicating can be harmful to a developing child and people who are depressed are more likely to struggle with substance abuse.

Believe it or not, there's evidence that depression during pregnancy is a good predictor of a teen's antisocial behavior. In one study, 33 percent of the children born to depressed mothers were arrested or diagnosed with depression in their teens, and 45 percent committed violent acts as a teen.

Untreated depression during pregnancy increases the chance of relapse during the postpartum period. Depression may make it difficult for a new mother to bond with her infant in the hours and days following her baby's birth. Pregnant women who are depressed are also more likely to commit suicide.

Unfortunately, physicians typically don't discuss depression with pregnant patients. If you're pregnant and suffer from depression, take the lead and talk to your doctor. There are many options for treating depression during pregnancy, including antidepressant medication, psychotherapy, light therapy, and alternative treatments such as acupuncture. Don't put your health-or your baby's-at risk by leaving depression untreated.


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