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The Role of Social Support in Perinatal Depression: Help for Pregnant Moms

stressed mother with baby

What is Perinatal Depression?

Perinatal depression is a type of depression that can occur anytime during pregnancy and up to one year after delivery. Typical symptoms of depression are a change in mood, loss of interest in daily activities, feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, and, in some cases, suicidal thoughts. Risk factors that contribute to perinatal depression are (Dagher et al., 2021):

  • Family history of depression
  • Difficult birth
  • Hormonal changes
  • Increased levels of stress
  • Lower income
  • Lack of social support
  • Medical issues with the mother or baby
  • Past or present abuse
  • Lower education level

Perinatal depression affects 10% to 20% of women in the US (Dagher et al., 2021). The prevalence differs when we look at race and ethnicity. Studies found that about 28% of Black mothers experience perinatal mood disorders and also receive inadequate mental health support compared to their white counterparts. Thirty-nine percent of women who experience perinatal depression before delivery go on to develop postpartum depression after childbirth (Lara-Cinisomo et al., 2018).

How can social support play a role in perinatal depression?

One significant risk factor for perinatal depression for women is not having strong social support during and after a pregnancy.

Social support is defined by the quality of social relationships a person has. It consists of the resources and support individuals’ social networks provide to help them cope with stress. Social support can look different for each person. It can take the form of practical help (shopping, cooking, rides to appointments), tangible help such as money or other material assistance, or emotional help, such as family, friends, or neighbors who are available to talk, listen, and encourage.

It helps expectant mothers to feel there is someone in their corner to show up for them so they don’t feel alone in their pregnancy journey. Strong social support positively impacts mothers’ mood and overall mental health. This can be especially beneficial for women of color, such as Black mothers who have had negative experiences in the healthcare system due to racism (Pao, et al., 2019). Research has found that women with social support had fewer depressive symptoms and better pregnancy outcomes (Wells et al., 1989; Orr, 2004; Figueiredo et al., 2014). 

Social support can also be a coping mechanism for pregnant women having to handle other challenging life events and situations (Pao, et al., 2019). Having a lower income level could be a potential cause for depressive feelings during pregnancy. In our local area of Connecticut, the Fairfield County Community Wellbeing Index of 2023 found that 38% of individuals with lower income levels reported not feeling supported by family and friends.

Perinatal depression is not the only risk for a lack of social support. Not having social support during pregnancy, especially during delivery, also increases the risk of death. Black women are three times more likely to die during or after childbirth. Olympic gold medalist Tori Bowie, who died of complications from childbirth, is a tragic example of this.

Finding social supports

Unfortunately, not everyone has people they can count on for support, especially during pregnancy. There are, however, sources of support outside expectant mothers’ interpersonal networks.

Pregnancy support groups

Being part of a community and feeling connected with others can have a huge impact on wellbeing. The positive outcomes for pregnant moms who have participated in group prenatal programs illustrate the importance of social support. Not only does it help expectant mothers’ mental health, but it also improves birth outcomes for their children (Renbarger et al., 2021). This allows pregnant moms to build new relationships that might not have existed before the pregnancy. These programs can be accessed through a primary physician, local community health centers, and community-based social service agencies.

Health care providers

Just as important as having friends and family support during pregnancy is having a trusted healthcare provider, whether that’s a doctor, nurse, midwife, or obstetrician. Having support from a medical professional during pregnancy can help ease pregnancy-induced stress.

Unfortunately, this has not always been the case for pregnant mothers, especially Black moms, whose concerns are frequently ignored or minimized. Not feeling listened to can create even more stress and depression. In many cases, non-medical healthcare professionals such as doulas can provide tailored emotional and social support during and after the pregnancy, helping expecting moms advocate for themselves.

Seek Professional Help

Taking control of your mental health during pregnancy is essential to a healthy pregnancy. Getting connected to a licensed mental health counselor about perinatal depression could help with coping and managing the different changes that come from pregnancy.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to treat perinatal depression or any other mental health conditions. Contact us now for more information on this free service.

Contact a Resource Specialist

About the Author: Sarah Omotunde joined Fairfield County’s Community Foundation in 2022 as a Program Associate. In this role, Sarah is responsible for providing programmatic and administrative support to the Fund for Women and Girls team. Sarah is passionate about mental health, education equity, youth wellbeing, and development, as well as community improvement. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Sacred Heart University and her master’s degree in community social psychology from the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

January 23rd, 2024 Is Maternal Health Awareness Day

Maternal Health Awareness Day is an annual observance dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of maternal health and wellbeing. Held this year on January 23rd, the day aims to highlight the challenges faced by pregnant women, promote access to quality healthcare, and advocate for policies that support maternal health globally. It serves as a platform to educate communities on the significance of ensuring safe pregnancies and reducing maternal mortality rates.

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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