Pregnancy and mental health

Pregnancy and mental health

Does pregnancy increase the risk of depression?

In most cases, the answer is no. About 10% of pregnant women suffer from depression, which is the same rate as the female population in general, says Dr. Marie-Josée Poulin, head of the Perinatal Psychiatry Program at the Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Québec. However, women who have already suffered from depression in the past, as well as those who are more sensitive to hormonal fluctuations, are more at risk. “Some women may suffer from depression during the first trimester of pregnancy, when progesterone levels rise rapidly,” says the psychiatrist. Dads-to-be should also pay attention to their mental health during the pregnancy, since they too are subject to depression.

When a mother suffers from anorexia or bulimia, is she or her child at risk?

Eating disorders increases the risk of pregnancy-induced hypertension, miscarriage, premature delivery and birth defects. Furthermore, babies born to anorexic or bulimic mothers risk suffering from malnutrition and low birth weights, which expose them to various health issues, developmental delays and behavioural problems.

“Children of anorexic or bulimic moms often have a lower threshold for stress tolerance,” says psychologist Howard Steiger, head of the Eating Disorders Program at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute. “They are also at risk for suffering from an eating disorder later on, or other mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.”

Can I take antidepressants during pregnancy and when breastfeeding?

“Since the symptoms of anxiety and depression and their severity vary from person to person, every case is unique,” says Dr. Marie-Josée Poulin. Some women feel better with psychotherapy and exercise, but others need antidepressants to feel better. Generally speaking, antidepressants do not pose a threat to the foetus. However, your doctor may change your medication towards the end of your pregnancy, since some antidepressants can cause temporary problems for the baby at birth. Babies also absorb small quantities of the antidepressant when breastfeeding. This is usually safe, but your doctor may wish to prescribe an antidepressant that the body eliminates more quickly.

I’m bipolar. Why do I need to consult my doctor before getting pregnant?

You should consult because your medication needs to be checked. This is because some drugs used to treat bipolar disorder (manic depression) can lead to birth defects in the baby. Psychiatric follow-up is also recommended throughout the pregnancy and for a few weeks after delivery. “Pregnancy increases the risk of a bipolar relapse,” explains perinatal psychiatrist Marie-Josée Poulin. “Moreover, bipolar women are at a much higher risk for postpartum depression and even postpartum psychosis, which is a very serious condition.”

Where to seek help
If you are worried about your mental health or that of a loved one, contact your family doctor, a medical clinic, your local CLSC or your employee assistance program. Your situation will be assessed and you may receive certain treatment. If required, you will then be directed to a unit specialized in mental health. You can also call the Info-Social line at 811. A psychosocial specialist can answer your questions and direct you to other resources as needed. Support groups may also be helpful.
  • Depression and anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses.
  • Parents’ mental health issues may affect their children if they are not treated or controlled.
  • Young children may also suffer from mental health disorders. If you’re overwhelmed by the emotions or behaviour of your child, it’s important to seek help.

Naître et grandir

Source: Naître et grandir Magazine, May-June 2016
Research and copywriting: Nathalie Vallerand
Scientific review: Dr. Lorraine Boucher, Consultant Psychiatrist, CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal

Photo: Norpoth