How does Perinatal Depression Happen?

Perinatal depression (postpartum depression) unexpectedly effects hundreds of thousands of women each year. This can happen between women already experiencing depression or not.

As a general rule, perinatal depression happens due to preexisting and environmental factors. These factors include a history of bipolar or depression in the family and a history of abuse/neglect which causes trauma. Stress is also a factor that can determine if perinatal depression will occur.

In this article we’re going to discuss more on the factors that can cause perinatal depression, including symptoms, how common it is and more.

What causes Perinatal Mood Disorder?

The more a woman is proactive about her mental and emotional health before having a child, the greater the chance that she will not experience perinatal depression. It is possible for perinatal to seemingly appear for no reason.

This is usually the result trauma that the woman might not be aware of. Blocking things out of memory as an act of self-preservation is common in those who have experienced some sort of neglect and/or trauma during childhood.

Usually, trauma like this is “locked up” somewhere in one’s self-conscious mind. The result of doing this is depression which can manifest due to life changes such as having a baby, marriage or other major life changes.

As previously mentioned, typically preexisting factors are at play. Let’s take a deeper look at the factors and how they might effect someone.

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Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder where the individual experiences manic and depressive phases. Manic and depressive phases may occur in short bursts of time, few or multiple times per year. They may also last for weeks or months, depending on the individual case.

When someone has bipolar, they are at risk for other forms of associated mental illness such as perinatal depression.

History of Mental Illness in the Family

Some mental illnesses can be past down due to genetic make up, characteristic tendencies and environment factors during childhood. For example, while a parent with a personality disorder such as OCD might not be able to directly pass this down, the “ingredients” for OCD will likely be passes down to some extent.

On top of that, the development of the disorder will most likely be influenced due to the proximity of the family members. If a parent has OCD and demands that a child does things exactly as they would, it’s very likely that the child could carry those traits into adulthood (in addition to potential trauma and emotional health issues as well).

All situations are unique. Some people might be aware of their mental illness and won’t over expose their children in certain ways. Anxiety and anxious tendencies are another example that is often essentially learned from parents.

Emotions such as shame, guilt and worthlessness are some of the most powerful. When these are magnified and the child is made to feel these more than they should, some form of an anxiety disorder is likely to develop.

perinatal depression

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Abuse of any kind usually causes some form of trauma which can lead to mental illness. Whether the abuse is caused by a family member or a significant other, the underlying effects can cause perinatal depression.

Even if someone is no longer in an abusive situation, the mental and emotional devastation that abuse can leave is substantial. If the trauma experienced during abuse is not properly worked through and treated, depression could arise at any time, including postpartum.


Neglect can impact someone just as much as abuse can, depending on the individual situation. Like abuse, neglect sends a message that someone is not worthy of proper treatment, love and respect.

Depending on the victim’s self-esteem, this can cause significant trauma that can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and possibly more (eating/personality disorders). Perinatal depression can surface as a result simply due to unresolved trauma.


Stress is a regular experience for many adults. As common and harmless as it might seem, stress has the ability to cause disease and mental illnesses to develop. This is due to how the nervous and immune systems respond to the effects of stress on the body.

Severe stress has the ability to cause chemical imbalances in the brain which can lead to the development of depression. For some, this manifests as perinatal depression. If it worsens and proper care is not sought, someone could develop a more chronic form of depression.

How Common is Perinatal (Postpartum) Anxiety?

Unfortunately postpartum depression is much more common than it seems. There are approximately 600,000 women in the United States who suffer with it each year. This is about 15% of births seen annually (U.S.).

perinatal depression

Symptoms of Perinatal Depression

Symptoms of perinatal/postpartum depression are pretty much the same as those of “regular” depression. Inability to bond with the baby, worrying about whether or not you’re a good mom and thoughts of self-harm or harming your baby have been seen in addition to what is typically seen with depression. Here is a list of the most commonly seen symptoms.

  • Overeating or lack of appetite
  • Feeling worthless and in despair
  • Crying all the time
  • Not wanting to be around friends/family
  • Experiencing anxiety and/or panic attacks
  • Inability to focus, make decisions or think clearly
  • Not wanting to bond with your baby
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide

In short, a good way to significantly reduce the chance of experiencing perinatal depression is to be aware of any trauma, anxiety or depression symptoms that you might already have. Seeking proper treatment and implementing a healthy lifestyle will not only ensure that you are at low risk for having perinatal depression, but it will also clear up any issues that you’ve been struggling with.

Taking care of your mental and emotional health should be a priority. Without a healthy state of mind, other issues will arise and you will not be able to experience the best, happiest, and more fulfilled version of yourself.

Anxiety attacks and dealing with anxiety in general are one of several difficulties that come along with a variety of mental illnesses.

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Hi, I'm Marissa! I'm passionate about mental and emotional health and want to share what I've learned over the years with others! I've seen first hand how mental health struggles can cause serious issues within relationships, work life, daily productivity, self-worth and more! I truly believe that we owe it to ourselves to bring more awareness to these life changing topics. Start your mental/emotional health journey by learning more today!

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