If you have questions about depression during pregnancy, read our article to learn more about it. Expert views and useful tips are also included.
Like most expectant moms who experience highs and lows throughout their pregnancy, Victoria chalked up her bad moods while carrying her second child to her physical state and looming life changes. Already the mother of a 6-month-old, she found herself feeling increasingly overwhelmed and unhappy about becoming a mother again. Still, Victoria didn’t believe her negative outlook would last long. “I never considered that I was depressed, just feeling pregnant,” she says. “I contributed it to hormones.”
But Victoria’s sadness didn’t ease as she had hoped. Instead, it grew more serious and family members began urging her to seek help. Like many women, Victoria was experiencing depression during pregnancy.
While depression following the birth of a baby often makes headlines, depression during pregnancy isn’t as well known. But according to a 2001 study of more than 9,000 mothers during and after pregnancy, symptoms of depression were more common during pregnancy than after. Some evidence suggests that mood during pregnancy may affect the unborn child, according to the study published in the British Medical Journal. As a result, the studies’ authors called for more detection and treatment of depression during pregnancy.
Parenting and pregnancy expert Ann Douglas says dealing with life changes and a lot of physical discomforts at the same time contribute to depression during pregnancy.
Feeling guilty about any negative thoughts during pregnancy doesn’t help the situation, Douglas added. “Everybody always expects you to be totally euphoric throughout your total nine months of pregnancy,” she says.
The solution, as tough as it may be, is to seek help. “Definitely, you need to talk your feelings through with people who understand. It has nothing to do with your fitness as a mom — you need to get lots of support,” Douglas adds.
The sooner you receive help, whether in the form of counseling, medication or a combination of both, the better off you and your baby will be, agrees Miranda Byrne, Ph.D., California. The program provides services for postpartum or pregnant women with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety or mild psychosis.
To learn more about postpartum depression : What is Postpartum Depression?
Expectant moms who are depressed are less likely to take their prenatal pills and make their prenatal doctor visits. They may turn to cigarettes, alcohol or drugs. “Depressed women don’t take good care of themselves and that’s not good for the fetus,” Byrne says.
Victoria acknowledges that she wishes she’d sought help sooner. But as an obstetric nurse she felt ashamed of her depression.
“Most people view depression during pregnancy as some sort of weakness,” says Victoria, who in February gave birth to her third child. “But, I am a much better nurse because of my experiences, because I really pay attention to patients who have histories of depression or signs of it in the hospital.”
Depression Symptoms During Pregnancy
The following symptoms, say experts, may be a signal of depression during pregnancy:
- Insomnia or excessive sleep
- Changes in energy (low energy levels, feeling unmotivated)
- Feelings of inadequacy, guilt, hopelessness
- Inability to take pleasure in things that are normally pleasurable
- Suicidal thoughts
- Difficulty making decisions
- Fear of being left alone
- Desire to run away
- Panic attacks
- Feeling that life is out of control
- Eating disturbances (other than typical morning sickness)
“When these persist consistently, for two weeks or longer, that’s when we begin to consider a diagnosis of mood disorder or major depression,” Byrne notes.
Claudia Brown, mother of four who is expecting her fifth child in March, recalled feeling much different during her third pregnancy — when she suffered from depression while carrying twins — compared to her other pregnancies when she felt fairly well.
“There are always ups and downs, and the hormones can make you moody or weepy,” says Brown, of Shenandoah, Pa. “I have had days where I cried two or three times for no apparent reason but I can actually recognize that I am crying for no reason. I can say, ‘I’m sad about everything; I have to shake this off.’ It’s not like that when you are depressed.”
What are the reasons?
Women of childbearing age are at a high risk of suffering from depression. While it’s not clear why this is, Byrne said women at this time in their life are more likely to experience their first episode of depression. In general, women are twice as likely to become depressed at any time in their life compared to men, she said.
“There seems to be a connection between hormonal fluctuations and mood states,” Byrne explains. “Pregnancy is a time in a woman’s life where there are significant hormonal changes as well as other physiological changes.”
Check our article to learn about mood swings in pregnancy : Mood Swing in Pregnancy.
Their risk increases, Byrne adds, if they’ve experienced depression prior to getting pregnant or they have a family history of depression. In addition, “there’s some suggestion that women with an unwanted pregnancy or women with very poor social support are at higher risk for developing depression.”
Other factors such as financial worries or marital or job problems can contribute to the depression.
“If there was anything, it was stress,” remembers Brown, who in 2016 at the time of her twin pregnancy was also mothering a toddler and preschooler. Her family’s financial situation was tight as well. “I felt out of control. I really think the stress just gave depression a chance to take hold.”
Relief Your Pain
Medication during pregnancy is tricky, experts say, but may be the answer for some moms-to-be experiencing depression. The idea is to help the mom as much as possible while at the same time limiting possible negative effects on the fetus, explains Douglas. Physicians typically will err on the conservative side, she says, by choosing medications that don’t pose a threat.
“Depression during pregnancy can be treated and managed well,” she explains. “No doctor is going to put a pregnant woman on a drug she shouldn’t be on.”
If medication isn’t the answer for you, other options are available. A physician could recommend local resources, such as counseling services or support groups. Listings for this type of assistance may also be found in the phone book or online. An expectant mom’s spouse or partner also may need support of this kind as they are struggling with their loved one’s depression.
Brown believes women who suffer from depression during their pregnancy should listen to their minds and bodies.
“When you are pregnant you are more vulnerable to falling into a pattern of depressed thoughts because of the emotional strain, and of course, the hormones,” Brown says. “I’d tell any woman struggling with depression to remember that she is not alone, to get help at the first sign and to keep asking.”
The names of the people mentioned in the article have been changed for security reasons.