Recognizing and treating peripartum depression

Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2012 Jun;109(24):419-24. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2012.0419. Epub 2012 Jun 15.


Background: In this article, we review current data on the prevalence of, risk factors for, and treatment of peripartum depression.

Method: Pertinent publications were retrieved by searches in Medline and the Cochrane Library using the key words "peri/pre/post", "partum/partal/natal", "maternal/motherhood/pregnancy", and "depression/affective disorder".

Results: Depression is the most common peripartal disease: The prevalence of depressive disorders is 18.4% during pregnancy and 19.2% in the puerperium. Prepartum depression is associated with preterm birth, low birth weight, and an abnormal fetal heart rate. In the long run, children of depressed mothers have been found to have impaired cognitive and emotional abilities. Risk factors for peripartal depression include prior depression, poor social support, poor quality of intimate relationship, and negative live events. Peripartum depression can be treated effectively with psychotherapy or drug therapy. Current data support the use of antidepressants during pregnancy and breastfeeding. In many places, pregnancy counseling centers offer low-threshold psychosocial assistance. Nonetheless, no more than 20% of the affected women are identified, even though rapid screening would be possible with instruments such as the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) and the two Whooley questions.

Conclusion: Peripartum depression is both common and treatable. Screening for depression should become a routine part of both prepartum care by gynecologists and postpartum care by midwives. This will only be possible, however, with expanded availability of ambulatory and inpatient psychotherapy and psychiatric care for the affected women and their children.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Depression, Postpartum / diagnosis
  • Depression, Postpartum / epidemiology*
  • Depression, Postpartum / therapy*
  • Female
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Prevalence
  • Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Risk Factors


  • Antidepressive Agents