Perinatal depression: It’s not just a postpartum issue

Little by little, society breaks the taboo and today we talk more and more naturally about mental health disorders and illnesses. Mental illnesses have a multifactorial origin and are more common than we might think. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) almost 1 in 10 people have some kind of mental health problem and 1 in 4 will have one at some point in their life.

As for anxiety and depression, these are much more common in women (9.2%) than in men (4%) (National Health Survey of Spain, 2017).

The mother’s mental health can affect the development of her offspring. One mental illness directly associated with pregnancy and motherhood is perinatal depression, more commonly (and, as we’ll explain below, erroneously) known as postpartum depression.

Several scientific studies indicated that this condition is not triggered only after childbirth (although some symptoms may be aggravated at this time) but that the onset of this disease usually takes place during pregnancy. Now, a recent scientific study using data from more than 11,000 pregnant women from 7 different cohorts in 3 different countries has determined that maternal depressive symptoms begin in the early stages of pregnancy and can persist for up to two years after delivery.

Given that maternal depression has serious implications for the mother herself, as well as for her child, it is vitally important to detect and treat this disease from its onset. As until recently it was considered a disease that began in the postpartum period, in most hospitals the routine follow-ups of pregnancy do not include the corresponding tests to assess the potential risk of suffering from it, which means that it often goes unnoticed.

It is important that the protocols are updated to incorporate this measure since in this way it will be possible to detect any problem of perinatal depression during pregnancy and initiate the necessary measures to ensure the well-being of future mothers and that they are in the best possible conditions to receive their creatures.

At BiSC, we have also evaluated the evolution of perinatal depression from the third trimester of pregnancy until the child is 28 months old. In our case, we mainly want to evaluate how environmental and lifestyle factors can affect the onset of this disease. We hope to have the first results soon.

This post has been written by Ioar Rivas, researcher of the BiSC Project.