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4 Depression Myths: The Truth About Childbirth’s Most Common Complication

woman holding baby depression myths

Giving birth to a child is one of the most wonderful — and challenging — experiences of life. Almost every parent has felt the baby blues: Hormones are in flux. You’re sleep deprived. A new family member means new challenges. But lots of people also experience postpartum depression (PPD). We dispel 4 depression myths after childbirth.

Although the most common complication of childbirth, PPD often goes undetected and untreated, putting the mother and child at risk.

What Is Postpartum Depression?

It’s the same as what we call major depression, except it’s diagnosed up to a year after giving birth. As many as 1 in 10 women will experience PPD. We reveal common myths about depression.

DEPRESSION MYTH: I’m Having a Boy So I’m at Greater Risk.

FACT: Who’s Really Most at Risk for PPD?

These findings come from a published study that surveyed more than 1.1 million new mothers. These women live all over the world and use an app to track their fertility and menstrual cycles. 

“The size of this study and worldwide sample makes the findings highly significant and definitive,” says UVA Health psychiatrist Jennifer Payne, MD. She’s the study’s senior author and a nationally recognized expert on PPD. She also directs the UVA Reproductive Psychiatry Research Program.

Other studies showed that mothers of boys are more likely to experience major depression. But Dr. Payne’s research found no big difference in rates of postpartum depression between mothers of boys or girls.

DEPRESSION MYTH: There’s No Way to Test for PPD.

FACT: There’s a Test. But It’s Not Often Given.

During obstetric care and well-child visits, your provider should give you a list of questions to answer. If you score a 13 or higher, you’re very likely to develop major depression.

Unfortunately, a lot of providers don’t screen their patients for depression during and after pregnancy. “Most women with postpartum depression are not diagnosed or treated,” Dr. Payne says. 

She adds, “We screen 99% of pregnant women for gestational diabetes, and its prevalence is only in the single digits. There’s been a real reluctance to screen for major depression. And yet, it’s pregnancy’s most common complication.”

DEPRESSION MYTH: I Can’t Take Depression Medication If I’m Pregnant.

FACT: It’s Important to Weigh Antidepressants’ Risks & Benefits.

Many women are told by their providers to go off their antidepressants during pregnancy. This is one of the depression myths. “It’s important for providers and patients to consider the risks of medication versus the risks of untreated depression,” Dr. Payne says.

She adds, “We know that untreated PPD can jeopardize a mother’s life, and it can affect the child’s IQ and language development.”

DEPRESSION MYTH: I’m Failing As a Mother If I’m Depressed.
FACT: PPD Is a Treatable Condition & No One’s Fault.

Anyone who develops postpartum depression needs to know they:

This depression myth can make a new mother less likely to admit she has PPD. And a partner may be hesitant to point out there’s a problem. “Some moms may see postpartum depression as a shortcoming in their mothering. You’re supposed to be really happy. But you’re not. We need to make new mothers feel okay with however they’re feeling and to ask for help,” says Dr. Payne.

With her research, Dr. Payne hopes to help end the stigma that keeps many people from seeking treatment for a mental health disorder. How? Her groundbreaking discoveries could one day lead to a simple blood or saliva test to uncover PPD.

Is It Baby Blues?

Don’t confuse postpartum depression with the baby blues. The irritability and sadness from baby blues will come and go. Depression lasts longer and requires treatment.

Get Support

Because PPD is so common, every expecting parent needs to know about Postpartum Support Virginia. This comprehensive resource can help you find treatment and other support in your community. 

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