Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario

Perinatal Depression Prevalence and Aetiology

Prenatal Depression (Depression in Pregnancy)

  • The prevalence of perinatal depression can vary depending on the population. For example, in 2014, the Public Health Agency of Canada reported ten per cent of all persons experience depression during pregnancy.
  • The underlying aetiology can be linked to an interaction of genetic, biological, and psychosocial factors. Social factors—such as a lack of support from a partner or family, intimate partner violence, poverty, an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, or increased life stressors—also may contribute, indicating the influence of social determinants of health and health inequities.
  • Treatment options, particularly those involving medications, may be complicated and limited due to concerns regarding potential harm to the developing fetus. As such, nurses must actively support pregnant persons to help them make fully informed decisions that considers the risks and benefits to the person and the fetus associated with medicated and unmedicated perinatal depression treatment options—as well as other non-pharmacological approaches.

Postpartum Depression (Depression up to One Year following Child Birth)

  • Postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbirth.
  • Symptoms of postpartum depression typically begin within the first four to six weeks following birth, but they can occur at any time within the first year following childbirth.
  • Early recognition of symptoms is essential: they may be recognized by affected individuals, their partners, or their family members, or by a nurse or other health-care provider.
  • Illness recognition, support, and treatment are essential as a lack of care leads to adverse outcomes, including further isolation, helplessness, and hopelessness.
  • Untreated postpartum depression can negatively impact a relationship between a mother and her infant, leaving a person feeling a lack of bonding, gratification, or fulfillment in her role as a parent.
Women and Children
Assessment and Interventions Perinatal Depression
Background Information