New Study Shocker: More Than 1/3 of Pregnant Women Experience Depression

Why it's important to get help as soon as possible. 

More Than One Third of Pregnant Women Are Depressed wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

We're conditioned to think that pregnancy is going to be one of the happiest, most magical times of our lives, but what if it's not? According to a new study from Northwestern University, more than one in three women experiences depression during those nine months.

While there's been increased awareness surrounding postpartum depression in recent years, we often hear little about the kind of depression that sets in before a baby is born. This study looked at depression during three stages: pre-pregnancy, pregnancy and postpartum. Surprisingly, 37 percent of women experienced depression during pregnancy, and 38 percent of women experienced depression during the postpartum period—yep, the numbers were almost equal. And the symptoms of depression were actually more severe during pregnancy than they were postpartum. 

According to Sheehan Fisher, an instructor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine, it's important that we understand how women feel during different phases of pregnancy and motherhood so that depression is not simply mistaken for general sadness. "[Depression] is a serious disorder that needs to be treated," he said.

So, what are some factors that contribute to depression during pregnancy? The Chicago Tribune cited a 2015 study which found that things like infertility, the enormity of the life change that occurs during pregnancy, and the comparisons of one's own experience to the happy baby bump photos that populate social media, can lead to depression. 

Northwestern's study, which was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, evaluated the symptoms of 727 women during the four-to-six week postpartum period. Subjects were questioned about the timing of their depression—whether it started before, during or after pregnancy. According to researchers, those who experienced symptoms earlier also had more chronic depression. They also found that depression that started before or during pregnancy persisted because it often remained untreated.

If there's one thing you should glean from the study, it's that if you're feeling depressed, you're not alone. Talk to your partner, friends, family or your doctor about your feelings—you'll be glad you did.