Additionally, untreated prenatal depression can limit a woman’s ability to self-care, eat well, and keep up with doctor visits—all things that studies show to be disruptive to maternal bonding and potentially harmful to the baby for years to come. “Women with prenatal depression are at risk for future depressive episodes, and a lot of research shows that their parenting skills are negatively impacted,” says Darius Tandon, Ph. D. , a psychologist and principal investigator for multiple Mothers and Babies projects, an evidence-based program that aims to prevent postpartum depression. “There is evidence of negative outcomes not only in the first year of life but persisting into toddlers and school-going age or even into adolescence.
One depressive episode increases the risk of another one by 50%, two to 70%, and three episodes to 90%, says Sudeepta Varma, M. D. , a psychiatrist and assistant professor at NYU Langone Medical Center in NYC, which is why she thinks pregnant women with prenatal depression should be continuously monitored. “Having partner support or family and community support is key,” she says. “So is having a game plan for after the delivery.
But many of these older studies compared pregnant depressed women who are taking antidepressants to pregnant women with no history of depression, which is “like comparing apples and oranges,” says Pooja Lakshmin, M. D. , a perinatal psychiatrist and clinical assistant professor at the George Washington School of Medicine.
But newer studies are more nuanced, finally comparing results using the right control group—pregnant women with depression who take antidepressants versus pregnant women dealing with untreated prenatal depression.