The Truth About Postpartum Depression

Women can experience postpartum depression when they're still pregnant, research shows. We explain why that matters

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We tend to think of postpartum depression, the moderate to severe depression that affects up to 16 percent of childbearing women, as something that crops up after you've had your baby. (After all, it's right there in the name: postpartum.) But new research reveals that some sufferers may begin experiencing symptoms during their pregnancy. What's more, the study authors report, these women will go on to have worse, more intense symptoms overall than women who first experience the signs after giving birth. (This is Your Brain On: Depression.)

In their study, the researchers analyzed more than 10,000 women with postpartum depression, taking into account their symptom onset, symptom severity, history of mood disorders, and complications that occurred during their pregnancy. (How Much Weight Should You Really Gain During Pregnancy?) In addition to discovering that the condition can start before giving birth, the researchers also found that postpartum depression can be categorized into three distinct subtypes, each of which presents in a similar way. That means, in the future, instead of being diagnosed with generalized postpartum depression, women may receive a diagnosis of postpartum depression, subtype 1, 2, or 3.

Why does that matter? The more doctors know about the differences between the subsets of postpartum depression, the better they can tailor treatment options toward each specific type, resulting in faster, more effective remedies for the scary condition. (Here's Why Burnout Should Be Taken Seriously.)

For now, the most important thing you can do (whether you're pregnant yourself or have a loved one who is) is to keep an eye out for warning signs like intense anxiety, an inability to deal with normal daily tasks (like cleaning up around the house), suicidal thoughts, and extreme mood swings. If you notice these symptoms or any unusual changes in your mood, get in touch with your doctor immediately to ask for help. Other helpful resources include Postpartum Support International and the support center PPDMoms at 1-800-PPDMOMS. (Learn more about National Depression Screening Day.)

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