Perinatal depression is a mood disorder experienced by pregnant women. (Courtesy photo)

Upon learning of their pregnancy, expecting mothers feel a combination of surprise, joy, and anxiety, amongst other feelings. Some of these expecting mothers may even experience self-doubt and negative thoughts about their ability to parent a child.

They may begin to lose sleep, experience depressive symptoms, and sometimes experience suicidal ideation. These feelings and thoughts are common signs of perinatal depression.

Perinatal depression is a mood disorder in women during pregnancy. It is often within the first year after childbirth. Perinatal depressive symptoms may include hopelessness and sadness, low self-worth, and changed appetite, sleep, and energy levels.

When women experience perinatal depression after giving birth, it can harm their relationship with their infant. When untreated, perinatal depression can lead to poor attachment with the infant, one of any newborn’s most basic needs for healthy development.

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Further, the depression can lead the mother to abuse and neglect their child causing developmental delays and even a disability. Yes, perinatal depression can do that.

A lack of attention to a mother’s mental health and the social stigma preventing women from seeking help for depression has been a dangerous combination leading to poor mental health outcomes for mothers and poor developmental outcomes for their newborns. Health professionals can quickly diagnose expecting or new mothers with perinatal depression if they see the doctor. Perinatal depression is a staggering issue affecting many women in the United States, particularly mothers of color.

On a national level, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported that roughly 1 in 5 women are not asked about depression during prenatal visits. Over half of the women that experience depression during pregnancy do so without treatment. Finally, 1 in 8 women report symptoms of depression after giving birth.

This form of depression is an increasing concern in the South Los Angeles region. Los Angeles County Perinatal Mental Health Task Force has reported that mothers of color tend to experience perinatal depression at a higher rate, and is more likely in families with a lower income level.

Further, a history of trauma and lack of social support can increase a mother’s risk of experiencing perinatal depression. Given the lack of culturally appropriate treatment options, there is an ongoing need for more resources and attention to this issue.

Many people in a mother’s life will tell them to push through their feelings, and how they feel is normal. This adds an unfair burden on mothers already drained from pregnancy and caring for a newborn.

One ongoing effort to address perinatal depression is the Health Equity Challenge. It is a program co-developed by MolinaCares under its California Equity and Accessibility Initiative and the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

The Health Equity Challenge asked UCLA students to create proposals in partnership with local community-based organizations to address health equity issues. One of the selected finalists, UCLA graduate student Alma Lopez, chose to focus on perinatal depression in mothers of color.

Cameron Lewis, MPA, is the project administrator for SHIELDS for Families.


During the program, Alma and her partner, SHIELDS for Families, will work with up to forty participating mothers through peer support groups, which SHIELDS for Families offers in English and Spanish. The partners will collect data and use the results to inform future efforts addressing the maternal mental health of mothers of color. Further, the partners will develop emotional wellness self-help tools during the program. They will also identify practices and resources that can reduce perinatal depressive symptoms in the participating mothers. Pregnancy and early motherhood are emotionally challenging for all mothers. However, too many mothers of color must tackle the unnecessary weight of adverse social factors that make treating perinatal depression a more significant challenge. Perinatal depression has become a public health issue our communities must focus on to make sure new mothers can get better care. Fundamentally, this program is guided and informed by mothers of color for mothers of color. In this foundation, health care providers can better develop resources and treatment for mothers of color experiencing perinatal depression.