As a societal rule, pregnancy is supposed to be completely happy and wonderful and the moment you disclose your pregnancy it’s all about the baby, becoming a mother or becoming parents and the beauty of it all. It’s about how this will change your life for the better and how you’ve never experienced anything as amazing as this before….
But what if what you’re feeling and how pregnancy is making you feel is not like that at all’.
As you read this, it’s quite possible that you’re pregnant, feeling depressed or anxious, or both. Or, and let’s be honest, it’s all just a mess and you need some answers and, above all, some comforting.
I’ve been told I’m quite good at giving both so let’s look after your mental health (always a great idea) and look at feelings of anxiety and depression during pregnancy.
Feeling depressed or anxious during pregnancy
First, let me reassure you that if you are experiencing anxiety during pregnancy it’s not uncommon. In fact, it’s extremely common. The vast majority of women feel anxious at some point during their pregnancies.
A huge thing is happening to you: in a few months your baby will be born. There’s no turning back and there’s a set amount of time until it happens. The feeling of ‘This is really happening and I don’t feel at all prepared to do it’ will come and visit you several times as the pregnancy progresses.
Will I be a good mother? How will giving birth be? Will I be enough for my baby? Generally speaking, these are the common questions most pregnant women will ask themselves several times. Now, add all the personal circumstances of each individual pregnant woman and you can understand why, for many, pregnancy can become a real mental health struggle.
Research shows that, unfortunately, the number of women who experience depression during pregnancy is on the rise.
Pregnancy is a time to take an inner journey and let go of many non-essential feelings. If there’s no possibility of doing this, it can easily lead to a woman experiencing depression.
The journey to developing depression during pregnancy, however, is usually a long one. There are several factors and various red flags that can help identify whether what’s happening to you could lead to experiencing prenatal depression.
Can pregnancy hormones cause anxiety and depression?
Those mighty pregnancy hormones! They do such precious work and are usually blamed for everything that doesn’t agree too well with us during pregnancy.
Pregnancy hormones play a very important role in your mental health. They work to protect your pregnancy by not letting unimportant matters stress you out.
Pregnancy hormones actually protect women from developing mental health problems. Of course, there’s only so much that hormones can do to help you with this. If you’re having a particularly difficult time or experiencing a lot of stressful events during pregnancy you can, unfortunately, develop anxiety and depression while pregnant.
Is it normal to feel unhappy about being pregnant?
Of course, it is. You are a whole and independent being, apart from your pregnancy. Being pregnant is a huge event in your life. It changes everything – your life, your body, your priorities and your relationships with your loved ones. Feeling unhappy about it at times is completely normal.
And, because there’s a real possibility of developing depression or anxiety disorders during pregnancy, don’t underestimate your intuition. Don’t hide behind the idea that ‘it’s normal’ but understand, at the same time, that it is normal to feel like this at times. If feelings of anxiety or depression are making you question your mental health condition, however, you could be at risk of developing anxiety disorders or perinatal depression. Please contact your midwife or primary care doctor as soon as possible.
Signs of depression and anxiety during pregnancy
Although you cannot diagnose depression and anxiety simply by adding up a few symptoms, here is a list of the most common depression and anxiety symptoms.
Make sure you contact your healthcare provider if you’re newly experiencing two or more of these symptoms:
- Depressed mood. You might have heard about mood swings during pregnancy. Mood swings are common as you adapt to all the changes pregnancy brings. They’re especially common during the first trimester of pregnancy. A depressed mood is different from mood swings. It’s better described as a mood that’s on the depressed side more often than not and it can actually be a mood disorder if you lose the ability to swing out of it. Read more about pregnancy symptoms in Pregnancy Symptoms | 17 Early Signs You Might Be Pregnant.
- Loss of interest or capacity to enjoy life
- Insomnia. If you are experiencing trouble sleeping it could be a common pregnancy symptom or it could be related to mental health issues. A mental health professional will be able to help you further if your experience trouble sleeping due to a mental health problem
- Reduced energy levels, which leads to constant tiredness and lack of push to do common things
- Reduced attention and concentration. Difficulty in paying attention or concentrating on a task when you had no problem with this prior to being pregnant might suggest a minor or even major depressive disorderOf course, as mentioned earlier, a sole symptom doesn’t make a diagnosis.If you’ve always experienced difficulty in paying attention or concentrating in a given task you might be suffering from what’s called ‘attention deficit hyperactivity disorder’ (ADHD). Although we mainly hear about it in children, many adults are undiagnosed due to their exceptional coping strategies throughout their lives. This doesn’t mean that undiagnosed adults don’t struggle with the condition; they just work extra hard to do what society expects from them, which doesn’t come naturally and requires a huge, almost constant, effort
- Low self esteem and feelings of worthlessness
- Episodes of difficulty with breathing and/or panic attacks
- Guilt and pessimistic views
- Thoughts of self harm.
Depression is a very debilitating mental illness that can have a severely damaging impact on your life. Don’t assume everything will be alright, or that it’s not worth mentioning, or that you’ll be able to sort it out on your own. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, speak up and make sure a professional is aware of your mental health situation. Although it might not mean that you’re on the verge of depression, it’s important to acknowledge how you feel.
The sooner clinical depression is identified, the sooner help will be summoned to look after those in need and bring them back to health.
Other risk factors
Genetic and individual risk factors play an important role in our mental health:
- Family history. If your own mother, sisters or other family members had some kind of perinatal depression it is more likely that you will suffer depression during pregnancy or postpartum depression. It’s a good idea to reach out to that family member, who will probably be very happy to help you avoid what she went through
- Your own history. If you have had previous depression or other mental health conditions, you are at a higher risk of suffering it during pregnancy.A history of premenstrual dysphoric disorder or substance abuse can also trigger a depressive response during pregnancy.What about an underlying long lasting untreated depression that, no matter how deeply it is pushed down, will never go away? This is one of the many reason why it’s important to treat depression as soon as possible. Untreated depression and unhealed trauma will surface when we’re most vulnerable. Pregnancy can be enough to trigger depression that has been dormant and left untreated.If you suffered any kind of physical or sexual abuse in the past, that can also trigger the appearance of depression during pregnancy.
Is it normal to feel anxious during pregnancy?
It is very common, even healthy, to experience some degree of anxiety about your baby’s life and health and about your future as a mother and as a family.
Most pregnant women will try to make changes, so as to be their best selves – not only for their babies’ sake but for their own health too. This means more healthy foods and more physical activity. It means reading and understanding what happens between the first and third trimesters and in the fourth trimester. It means learning about breast feeding, the postpartum period and postpartum depression.
There are so many things to think about it’s hard not to feel some degree of antenatal anxiety at times.
Most women start to learn about babies and pregnancy when they actually become pregnant. It’s a whole new world. And there is so much to learn that it can become overwhelming for most pregnant women.
Can pregnancy make you feel depressed?
There’s nothing physical in pregnancy that might induce depression but pregnancy can affect women in many different ways. There can be pregnancy complications, hurtful memories of a previous pregnancy loss or just the circumstances in which the pregnancy is developing that might make you feel depressed.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the saying ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade’. If pregnancy takes a toll on your mental health, it’s important to look for the right help. After all, there’s a huge difference between a sour lemonade and a sweet tasty one.
If you’re feeling a form of ‘baby blues’ during pregnancy, it could be a temporary mood swing. It could also be a warning of something deeper that might, later on, trigger a postpartum depression. If you experience depression or feel you need further emotional support, make sure you tell your healthcare provider, who will be able to direct you to the right professionals, support groups and therapies.
Mental health treatment for pregnant women
A pregnant woman’s mental and physical health is sometimes considered secondary to her baby’s needs. Some women suffer terrible anxiety or major depressive episodes might occur during their pregnancies and they don’t get the right treatment because they’re scared that some medications might harm their unborn babies.
A mother’s mental health is of paramount importance. Mental health professionals will help you make a decision about the right treatment plan for you and your baby.
A treatment plan doesn’t necessarily mean pharmacological treatment. There are different treatment options, depending on each individual case.
Some examples are:
- Talk therapy. Talking one on one about what you’re currently going through can really help dissipate those feelings of anxiety and depression. Depending on each person’s personal history, family therapy might also be beneficial in certain cases
- Support groups: Belonging to the right support group can do a lot for the quality of your mental health. Your healthcare provider will be able to suggest local resources that might help you.
If you do need pharmacological treatment, don’t worry; there are also various treatment options when you’re pregnant.
How can I calm my anxiety during pregnancy?
If anxiety is not new to you, what has worked before will most likely still work during pregnancy.
Meditation will help reduce anxiety at any given time.
Mindfulness can also help you stay in the present moment and keep unfounded worries away.
Relaxation techniques can also help keep your anxiety levels down when you feel them building up.
Yoga and martial arts can also help fight anxiety. Make sure you let your instructor know you’re pregnant as some asanas or certain movements should be avoided while you’re pregnant.
Can mother’s stress affect baby?
Most of what runs through a pregnant woman’s veins will be passed to her baby – especially when we’re talking about hormones. Adrenaline is the hormone the body secretes when we experiences stress; when we experience love and happiness, the body secretes oxytocin. These two hormones are antagonistic, which means that high amounts of one mean low amounts of the other.
I’m sure you’ve heard about how the hormone oxytocin is very relevant during labor and birth. The role oxytocin plays during pregnancy is just as important as during birth. A baby who grows and develops in an environment full of love will thrive.
When a pregnant woman experiences stress, a hormonal reaction takes place to make sure she copes appropriately with the stressful situation. Once the stressor dissappears, the adrenaline levels drop and the oxytocin builds up again.
A level of stress is to be expected during pregnancy and it will actually help the baby deal with stress later in life; however, it’s important to make sure that the levels of oxytocin a pregnant woman has remain as high as possible for her baby to thrive.
You can read more about this in BellyBelly’s articles: