Course of major depressive disorder after pregnancy and the postpartum period

Depress Anxiety. 2018 Dec;35(12):1130-1136. doi: 10.1002/da.22836. Epub 2018 Sep 7.


Background: Maternal major depressive disorder (MDD) has an adverse effect on child development and increases risk for child psychopathology. It is paramount to understand the course of maternal depression during the childhood years particularly before, during, and after pregnancy.

Objective: To follow the course of MDD in women with prior histories of depression followed during an index pregnancy.

Methods: Subjects were women with histories of MDD who had participated in prior prospective, observational studies during pregnancy. In the follow-up, participants completed a structured interview that addressed (1) the course of MDD since their index pregnancy, (2) new psychiatric diagnoses, and (3) the course of MDD and treatment across subsequent pregnancies.

Results: Out of 129 eligible women, 48.8% participated (N = 63) with an average/mean time of 12.9 years (SD = 1.9, 8.8-16.7) elapsed since participation in the prior pregnancy studies. Although approximately one third reported sustained remission from MDD since the pregnancy during which they had been originally followed, of the remaining two thirds of women who reported subsequent depressive episodes, almost one fifth (∼12% of the total sample) endorsed depression more than 50% of the time following their index pregnancy. A total of 6.3% of the women with previous validated diagnoses of MDD reported new diagnoses of bipolar disorder. Women reported similar treatment choices regarding the use of antidepressants during pregnancies subsequent to the one followed in the previous study.

Conclusion: Women with MDD experienced high rates of recurrent depression across the childbearing years. This represents a critical variable for clinical care and research.

Keywords: antidepressants; bipolar disorder; depression; maternal-child; mood disorders; pregnancy and postpartum.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Depression, Postpartum / physiopathology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / physiopathology*
  • Disease Progression*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Pregnancy