Pregnancy is often seen as one of the happiest times in a woman’s life, and for many it is!
It’s usually seen as a time of joy and wonder, filled with cute baby clothes and ultrasound appointments.
But for some women, it can be a difficult time.
We often hear about the ‘baby blues’ that can come after a baby is born.
They are often caused by hormonal changes, as well as by the changes involved in suddenly having a baby.
But what about the months before the baby is born?
Depression during pregnancy is something less talked about, and often something women feel ashamed about.
Depression can be a tricky disorder to pinpoint, and depression during pregnancy can be even more difficult to spot.
Many women believe what they’re experiencing is normal, when in fact it isn’t.
There’s no need to spend your pregnancy experiencing depression. There is help out there for you.
Read on to learn more about the symptoms of depression, and whether you think you might be experiencing it.
Depression during pregnancy
During pregnancy, it’s easy for feelings of depression to be ignored.
A pregnant woman is expected to act and feel a certain way.
However, she is experiencing many things that are completely new to her.
Suddenly, there’s so much attention on the baby, her life is changing in so many ways, and she’s not sure how to feel.
For the lucky ones, pregnancy is a time of great happiness.
Some women, though, experience depression, which can be confusing when it’s not expected, and devastating when it is.
Pregnancy and depression
It can be easy for depression to go unnoticed during pregnancy.
The signs aren’t always obvious.
The attention is all on the baby. People focus on baby clothes and cute baby accessories and are keen to find out the baby’s sex.
It seems as though everyone expects the woman to be feeling joy. Some women, however, feel depressed..
Many factors contribute to the likelihood of women experiencing depression during pregnancy:
- Brain chemistry
- Previously untreated mental health problems
- Sudden change in life events
- Hormone changes
- Change of life roles
- Family dynamics
- Unsupportive partner or lack of a partner
- Unstable relationship
- Lower self-esteem, due to body changes
- Pregnancy complications
- Previous pregnancy or child loss
- A previous traumatic birth
- Fear of birth.
Women with a history of major depression are at greater risk of perinatal depression.
For these women, depression during pregnancy can be experienced more severely.
Signs of depression in pregnancy
Usually, the symptoms of depression during pregnancy are similar to the symptoms of depression outside of pregnancy.
They can include:
- Appetite changes
- Frequent crying
- Withdrawal from social interaction
- Lack of interest in activities usually enjoyed
- Feeling suicidal
- Weight loss
- Weight gain above what’s recommended for pregnancy
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Negative thoughts
- Mood swings
- Feelings of stress
- Stomach problems.
Pregnancy during depression might also look different.
For example, a woman might show:
- A loss of interest in the baby
- Extreme anxiety about the baby
- Extreme anxiety about life after the baby is born
- A lack of interest in things the baby needs
- Risky behaviours (such as smoking or drinking) that might harm the baby.
Pregnant women might be diagnosed with depression during pregnancy if they’ve experienced most of these symptoms:
- For a major part of most days
- For at least 2 weeks.
It’s essential women see their health care providers if they think they’re suffering from perinatal depression.
A doctor will be able to assess the symptoms and discuss treatment options.
It’s important that women seek help from health care providers if they believe they’re experiencing depression during pregnancy.
Types of treatment a prenatal care provider might suggest are:
- Talk therapy
- Reduction of stress
- Use of antidepressants
- Increased help from family members
- Support groups.
If you are considering taking antidepressants during pregnancy, it’s important to have the help of your health care provider.
There is risk associated with antidepressants during pregnancy.
This risk alone can cause extra anxiety for pregnant women.
Experts suggest that although antidepressants carry a risk of birth defects if used during pregnancy, it’s more important to treat depression during pregnancy.
This is because depression symptoms can be more harmful to the pregnancy and the baby than the antidepressants.
Depression in pregnancy
Untreated depression during pregnancy can increase the risk of:
- Low birth weight
- Conditions related to anxiety
- Premature birth
- Illness related to stress
- Birth complications.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression during pregnancy, it’s important for you to talk with your health care provider about the decision to take an antidepressant.
Health care providers should guide you to the best form of treatment.
If your treatment includes the use of medication, there should be a discussion about:
- Symptoms related to the medication
- Withdrawal symptoms (if you decide to stop taking the medication)
- Any risk factors associated with the medication
- Potential effects on the pregnancy or baby
- Your family history, especially if the medication has previously been used during pregnancy
- The expected course of treatment
- Any anxiety you might feel about taking the medication
- How you can expect it to affect your mood
- Research into the effects of the medication on depression, especially depression during pregnancy
Your provider should help you feel you’re making an informed choice about your treatment.
Make sure you are happy with the choice you make.
How can I control my emotions during pregnancy?
If you choose not to take antidepressants for pregnancy depression, there are other methods of treatment available.
If you’re experiencing depression, you need to seek the kind of help that works for you.
Obstetricians and gynecologists aren’t always the best source of help for this type of anxiety.
You might prefer to ask to be referred for treatment by a mental health provider.
Many women feel that the opportunity to discuss their problems is more beneficial than the help obstetricians and gynecologists can provide.
A therapy provider will be able to:
- Assess your history of depression
- Assess any possible history of mood disorders
- Assess any psychological conditions stemming from your depression
- Discuss your stages of pregnancy and birth
- Help you with any trauma from past pregnancies or birth experiences
- Walk you through any anxiety
- Work with your moods throughout your depression
- Help you sort through your thoughts
- Help you work through any problems in your life
- Help you feel you’re in control of your situation.
If you have a history of depression or other mood disorder, your therapist might suggest options such as:
- Support groups
- Family therapy
- Marriage or partner therapy
Research suggests that a strong family or partner support will minimise the conditions that can lead to depression.
Depression after pregnancy
Elly Taylor is a perinatal relationship expert and the author of Becoming Us – The Couple’s Guide to Surviving Parenthood.
She stresses how much of an impact the support of the family can have on a mother’s risk of depression.
She says, “How confident a woman is that her relationship is strong, that her partner will cope with parenthood and also be able to support her (physically, emotionally, financially) are all common concerns.
If these things remain concerns after the baby arrives, they’re likely to continue and potentially be bigger contributing factors to anxiety and depression in the postpartum period too.”
If the conditions that are risk factors for depression during pregnancy remain after the birth of the baby, there’s a risk of postpartum depression.
It’s important to treat the conditions of depression carefully while you’re pregnant so your risk of postpartum depression is lowered.
Why do I feel so bad while pregnant?
If you go into pregnancy knowing you’ve already had a mood disorder, you might suspect that you have a higher risk for depression during pregnancy.
In that case, it’s important to keep track of your feelings and watch for any signs of anxiety.
This might suggest that you’re heading into depression.
Depression in early pregnancy
Research suggests that around 1 in 10 women experience depression during pregnancy.
It might be time to look into ways of treating depression if you:
- Experience a loss of interest in the pregnancy, or in activities, you enjoyed before
- Have previously experienced depression or similar conditions
- Experience high levels of anxiety.
If you have other young children, your depression might be related to stress.
It’s good to research ways to cope with depression.
You could try:
- Guided meditation
- Planned alone time
- Outside time
- Gentle exercise
If you have previously experienced depression, or know you are at risk of experiencing it during pregnancy, it’s important to take it seriously.
It’s also very important to seek help from your doctor or a therapist if depression is interfering with your quality of life.