Perinatal depression is common and primary care holds a crucial role for detecting, treating or, if necessary, providing referrals to mental health care for affected women. Family doctors should be aware of risk factors for peripartum depression, including previous history of depression, life events and interpersonal conflict. Perinatal depression has been associated with many poor outcomes, including maternal, child and family unit challenges. Infants and young children of perinatally depressed mothers are more likely to have a difficult temperament, as well as cognitive and emotional delays. The primary care setting is uniquely poised to be the screening and treatment site for perinatal depression; however, several obstacles, both at patient and systems level, have been identified that interfere with women's treatment engagement. Current published treatment guidelines favour psychotherapy above medicines as first line treatment for mild to moderate perinatal depression, while pharmacotherapy is first choice for severe depression, often in combination with psychosocial or integrative approaches. Among mothers who decide to stop taking their antidepressants despite ongoing depression during the perinatal period, the majority suffer from relapsing symptoms. If depression continues post-partum, there is an increased risk of poor mother–infant attachment, delayed cognitive and linguistic skills in the infant, impaired emotional development and risk for behavioural problems in later life. Complex, comprehensive and multilevel algorithms are warranted to treat perinatal depression. Primary care doctors are best suited to initiate, carry out and evaluate the effectiveness of such interventions designed to prevent adverse outcomes of maternal perinatal depression on mother and child wellbeing.