Pregnant and Postpartum Mental Health Challenges and Risk Factors

This article is not medical advice. Please speak with your doctor or other professional if you have questions about depression and mental health.

Becoming a mother brings a lot of changes that many of us aren’t fully prepared for. Your body changes. Your hormones fluctuate. Your entire routine is disrupted. Even if all of these changes are welcomed and wanted, they nevertheless can bring some stress and trigger struggles with mental health.

Motherhood doesn’t necessarily get easier as the kids grow up, either. The types of challenges shift but overall being a parent remains stressful, and stress can have a significant impact on our mental health. Mothers often bear a huge part of that stress, especially the mental load, so it’s no wonder why so many women struggle with mental illness.

pregnant woman in nursery
Via Ömürden Cengiz on

I experienced depression for the first time during pregnancy, and it completely took me by surprise. Ever since then, I have tried to share my story so other moms can be aware of some of the unique risk factors for mental illness related to motherhood. Most important, know that if you experience mental health struggles, you aren’t alone.

There are a wide variety of risk factors that can contribute to depression. No one can definitively say why one person develops depression and another does not, but looking at the big picture of our genetics, health, and environment combined can provide valuable insight.

>> RELATED READ :: Maternal Mental Health Tips and Local Resources <<

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) lists some of the risk factors for depression, anxiety, and other mental illness that can be applicable to anyone:

  • Adjusting to major life changes
  • Adverse childhood experiences
  • Chronic stress
  • Experiencing financial problems
  • Experiencing problems in your relationship
  • Little social support
  • Overall health and hormonal fluctuations
  • Personal or family history of mental illness
  • Sleep deprivation

A depressed woman holds her head in her hand.Risk Factors for Depression Related to Pregnancy

Perinatal mental health is a term that encompasses mental health surrounding pregnancy and postpartum. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development details the risk factors for depression and anxiety during pregnancy and after birth, some of which include:

  • Complications in pregnancy
  • Experienced a previous pregnancy loss
  • How the mother feels about her pregnancy (especially if it was unplanned or unwanted)
  • Receiving little or no support from family or friends
  • Sleep deprivation
Sometimes there is no clear reason why someone develops a mental illness during or after pregnancy. Our hormones fluctuate so much and that definitely can influence how we feel. The most important thing is to communicate your symptoms to your doctor or other professional and know that there is no shame in seeking help.

Risk Factors for Depression After Pregnancy

A new set of circumstances arrive after the birth of your child. While it can be a joyous time, it is a large shift in your everyday life. Postpartum depression and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) can be caused by a combination of factors, some of which may include the following:

  • Adjusting to a major life change
  • Being a single mom
  • Fatigue from birth and sleep deprivation
  • Giving birth to twins or other multiples
  • Parenting a child with special needs
  • Receiving little or no support from family or friends
  • Traumatic birth
  • Wanting to breastfeed, but having struggles or being unable to

Here’s are a couple other useful links about postpartum depression:

Ways to Reduce Your Risk or Severity of Depression

Sometimes there is no avoiding mental illness. It is not your fault if you develop depression or another mental health condition. These are suggestions that help some people navigate mental health struggles and provide ideas to help them cope during major life changes and struggles.

  1. Learn to regulate thoughts and emotions
  2. Develop coping skills for stress
  3. Work with a counselor. If you are trying to prevent perinatal depression, try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and/or Interpersonal Therapy
  4. Prenatal education about mental health including PPD symptoms, challenges of pregnancy, addressing unrealistic expectations of motherhood, teaching self-care and problem-solving skills
  5. Postpartum support (moms groups, online support groups, a postpartum doula, or anything else that will help you thrive.)
As you can see, there are a lot of reasons to focus on educating and caring for mothers’ mental health. And sometimes no matter what you do, depression and mental illness still happen. The good news is that treatment is available. There is hope.
You don’t have to continue to suffer. You deserve to be happy and enjoy being a mom. If you are struggling, please reach out to a professional. And always remember, you’re not alone.
Kristen Gardiner
Kristen Gardiner moved to the Dallas area (Allen) in 2018 with her husband and three boys (born in 2010, 2012, and 2015). She has a marketing degree from Texas A&M (class of '06) and an M.B.A. from Texas A&M --Corpus Christi. Kristen met her husband while working at Whataburger in College Station, and they have been inseparable ever since. She has spent the past few years as a freelance writer and marketing consultant. Kristen is passionate about storytelling and sharing about struggles with mental health in motherhood on her blog Driving Mom Crazy.