Postpartum depression – the depression that occurs in new mothers after their baby is born – may be better known, but depression during pregnancy is more common than experts thought. There now is a new term for prenatal depression before the baby is born and postpartum depression after the baby is born – perinatal depression. 

Perinatal depression can be a serious and debilitating condition that oftentimes can go under-recognized and even when properly diagnosed, under-treated. Contributing factors include hormonal shifts, increased stress, physical and environmental changes, as well as other factors. Statistics show that between 9 to 24% of people who are pregnant will experience perinatal depression symptoms. 

The reason why it can be difficult to identify perinatal depression is that some of the symptoms of depression overlap with the normal effects of pregnancy. These symptoms include fatigue, weight gain, or altered sleeping pattern. When the feelings of anxiety, doubt, irritability, or fatigue last for a few weeks or impair daily functioning, this is when the normal effects of pregnancy could be more serious, and a healthcare provider should be consulted. 

Antidepressant therapy is frequently used to treat perinatal depression, but these medications can take a long time to be effective and have significant side effects during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. For those that prefer to be drug-free or who are treatment resistant, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is an alternative solution. 

TMS, an FDA-approved treatment for major depressive disorder, is a noninvasive procedure that works by directing recurring magnetic energy pulses at specific areas of the brain that are involved in mood control. The magnetic pulses pass painlessly through the skull to stimulate brain cells which can improve communication between different parts of the brain. The result is long-lasting effects on how the brain functions which can ease depression symptoms and improve mood.

Multiple studies have shown that TMS can provide safe and effective treatment for women with no side effects on the baby. In 2020, a pilot study was conducted to look at the efficacy of TMS in a group of women with postpartum depression. This specific study was intended to add to the information that had been gathered from several earlier studies on the same topic. What was found was that the treatment with TMS of participants with postpartum depression resulted in an improvement in depressive symptoms which were maintained over 3 to 6 months of follow-up. 

If you or someone you know is, or could be, suffering from perinatal depression, consider exploring TMS as a treatment option. Consult with a healthcare professional to discuss if TMS is right for you. 

About the Author

Kimberly Sandberg Aloha Integrative Health
Kim Sandberg is the owner and founder of Aloha Integrative Health and a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. She has two advanced degrees: a Masters of Science in Nursing as a Nurse Anesthetist and a Doctor of Nursing Practice. She has worked in a variety of settings, though the biggest impact on Kim and her work came from her 28 years of service in the Navy Reserve.

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