Here are 10 other lesser-known risk factors for postpartum depression, along with steps you can take now, while you’re still pregnant, to lower your chances of developing it.
Your pregnancy was unplanned.
An unexpected pregnancy can be a huge shock. Even if you choose to go ahead with it, you’re more likely than women whose pregnancies were planned to have mixed feelings about becoming a mother—and that ambivalence can affect your emotional health before and after delivery, particularly if you’re a glass-half-empty kind of gal, says Sara Rosenquist, Ph.D., a reproductive health psychologist in Chapel Hill, N.C., and author of After the Stork: The Couple’s Guide to Preventing and Overcoming Postpartum Depression (New Harbinger).
Prepare yourself: Try not to dwell on the negative aspects of having a child. “We have a choice about what to pay attention to—the positive stuff about this baby or the negative stuff,” Rosenquist says. For example, if you’re an older mother who thought her diaper-changing days were behind her, think about what great parenting perspective and wisdom your age and experience will give you.
You're having relationship problems.
Couple troubles put an enormous strain on expectant parents. “They increase stress and disappointments,” Rosenquist says. “That friction may very well lead to depression.”
Prepare yourself: Contrary to the gauzy images we’re all bombarded with, research has shown that having a baby increases marital stress rather than decreases it, so get help now from an experienced marital therapist. Working out problems can take time and energy, both of which will be in short supply when your baby arrives. Don’t be ashamed to ask friends for referrals—you’ll probably be surprised how many of your pals have had couples therapy, Rosenquist says.
You lack support.
You feel all alone—you have an unhelpful partner (or none at all), no close friends nearby, an unsupportive or unavailable family or antagonistic in-laws. This kind of isolation leaves you without the assistance, encouragement and comfort that can help you cope with problems and feel strong.
Prepare yourself: Start building a support system before the baby comes, says PPD researcher Michael O’Hara, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Iowa. Create a village. Nurture new relationships, reach out to old friends, build bridges with estranged family members and join support groups. If you can afford it, get on the phone now and line up a postpartum doula or baby nurse to help after the baby arrives.
Your finances are rocky.
Money struggles are tough at any time, but they weigh especially heavy when you’re about to bring a new life into your family. The stress is even greater if you lack adequate health insurance coverage or expect to receive little or no income while you’re on maternity leave. “How much financial uncertainty you have in your life is a huge risk factor for postpartum depression,” says Rosenquist.
Prepare yourself: Sit down with a financial expert or money-savvy friend who can help you put together a money plan that works. You won’t find any magic answers, but you’ll probably feel more in control (and less anxious) if you have a solid strategy in place, Rosenquist says. Also, get in-the-know about how to spend less on your baby’s needs. Having a baby can cost less when you make smart moves such as asking friends for hand-me-downs, joining a child care co-op, downloading baby-product coupons from such websites as freebabycoupons.com and breastfeeding rather than using formula.