Can Pregnancy Cause Mental Illness |Blog By Dr. Anuradha Khurana, Paras Bliss, New Delhi

Can pregnancy cause mental illness?

Can pregnancy cause mental illness?

by: Dr. Anuradha Khurana
Attending Consultant – Obstetrics & Gynecology - Paras Bliss, New Delhi

Pregnancy is generally thought to be a time of happiness and emotional well-being for a woman. However, for many women, pregnancy and motherhood increase their vulnerability to psychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and psychoses. These conditions are often under-diagnosed because they are attributed to pregnancy-related changes in maternal temperament or physiology.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression:

  • During pregnancy, symptoms of depression such as changes in sleep, appetite, and energy are often difficult to distinguish from the normal experiences of pregnancy. Depression is the most common psychiatric disorder associated with pregnancy.
  • Pregnant women may also suffer from anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and eating disorders.
  • While it is rare for women to experience first-onset psychoses during pregnancy, relapse rates are high for women previously diagnosed with some form of psychosis.

Risk factors for Depression:

Several risk factors and psychosocial correlates have been identified as contributing to depression during pregnancy. The most clearly identified risk factors include

  • A previous history of depression, discontinuation of medication(s) by a woman who has a history of depression
  • A previous history of postpartum depression
  • Family history of depression

Key aspects that highlight that a woman is suffering from Depression post Pregnancy:

  • Pessimistic Attitude– A negative attitude toward the pregnancy, a lack of social support, maternal stress associated with negative life events, and a partner or family member who is unhappy about the pregnancy.
  • Panic Attacks – Women presenting with panic attacks for the first time should be screened for thyroid disorder. The possible effects of anxiety and panic on the course of the pregnancy and the health of the fetus are not well understood.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – It is characterized by thoughts that cannot be controlled (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors or rituals that cannot be controlled (compulsions) in response to these thoughts. It is suggested that women may be at an increased risk for the onset of OCD during pregnancy and the postpartum period.

Treatment for Depression due to pregnancy:

  • Treatments for OCD in pregnancy are the same as those in non-pregnant adults and include cognitive behavioral therapy and pharmacotherapy.
  • Women with severe OCD can become quite incapacitated and will require treatment. Most women, naturally enough, worry about the health of the fetus and how they will cope with labor and bodily changes.
  • Excessive worrying, however, may be a symptom of GAD (Generalized Anxiety disorder) or depression. A very small number of women experience tocophobia, an unreasonable dread of childbirth. These women are more prone to postpartum depression if denied the delivery method of their choice (i.e., cesarean section).


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