We think of pregnancy as an exciting time. But for many women, pregnancy isn’t exactly a joyful time. Instead, it’s a time of depression. This can cast a cloud over both the pregnancy and the days and months to follow. Many women don’t recognize their condition, and unfortunately, neither do their health care providers.
So, if you’re planning on getting pregnant, or aren’t feeling like yourself while pregnant, keep reading to learn what pregnancy depression is and what you can do about it.
What is pregnancy depression?
Depression is a mental illness that affects a lot of women. In fact, 25 percent of all women will experience this mood disorder at least once in their lifetime. And 14 to 23 percent of all pregnant women will experience depression symptoms, according to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
And even though we need to take depression seriously – whether you’re pregnant or not – it seems that many pregnant women and their depression get missed entirely.
Women can’t just “shake off” pregnancy depression
It’s difficult to understand depression especially when a woman is pregnant – a time when we expect her to feel happy and excited. However, pregnancy depression isn’t just a mood women can snap out of.
According to a therapist, Dr. Gabby Farkas, “Patients tell us all the time that their family members tell them to ‘shake it off’ and get themselves together. Society at large thinks that pregnancy and having the baby is the happiest period of a woman’s life and that’s the only way to experience this. When in fact, women experience a whole spectrum of emotions during this time.”
And while it might make some people uncomfortable, the truth is, some women experience pregnancy depression.
Why do we miss pregnancy depression?
Hormonal balance vs. depression
When a woman is pregnant, her body undergoes many significant hormonal shifts. And often, her symptoms of depression are confused with a hormonal imbalance.
And while hormones do play a big role in how we feel, mistaking depression for “just” hormonal imbalance only harms women further.
Hormones due impact brain chemistry, but if brain chemicals are out of balance, depression can develop. What’s more, the big life changes brought on by pregnancy can challenge a woman’s mental well-being, contributing to symptoms of depression, too.
Pregnancy is already a big life change. But it also gives women lots of other big life changes, and some of them can contribute to depression. What do these life changes look like?
Pregnancy introduces a whole new dynamic into your relationship, and relationship troubles can ensue.
Another thing to consider is that if a woman has already experienced depression in the past, she can experience it anew while pregnant.
Normal stress triggers don’t go away when you’re pregnant, and for many women, they can all compound and contribute to pregnancy depression, too.
Not unlike other experiences of depression, pregnant women can feel shame when it comes to their depression. Perhaps they feel like they’re failing as mothers, or that there’s something wrong with them.
However, as we know, depression is a complex problem and a medical condition that deserves respect and attention, especially for women who are approaching a crucial transition in their lives.
The better supported they are, the better their pregnancy will be, along with the health and well-being of their child.
Symptoms of pregnancy depression
A woman’s body experiences many profound changes during pregnancy, and it’s important to be aware of any differences in your psychological and emotional state, too. This can cue you in on possible pregnancy depression.
Here are the symptoms that indicate pregnancy depression, especially if they last for two weeks or more:
- Continued sadness
- Concentration problems
- Sleep disturbances, or sleeping too much
- Feelings of anxiety
- Feelings of guilt
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Lack of interest and enjoyment in usual activities, hobbies, and pastimes
- Change in eating patterns
- Thoughts of suicide and death
Like depression, these symptoms can significantly lower the quality of life of the individual, and it’s no different for pregnant women. But on top of the health of the mother, pregnancy depression can harm the baby, too.
How pregnancy depression can impact the baby
The pregnant woman’s lifestyle, along with her emotional and mental state, has a big impact on the baby, too. And it’s not hard to see why. After all, the unborn baby is completely dependent on the mother, and if she is struggling to take care of herself, it can have a ripple effect on the health of the baby.
For example, when a mother is depressed, it can lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices, including smoking, drinking, poor diet and even suicidal behavior.
Not only is this harmful to the pregnant woman, but studies show it can lead to premature birth, unhealthy birth weight and developmental problems for the child.
Once born, babies of depressed mothers aren’t as active and attentive. What’s more, they can be more anxious compared to babies born to mothers without depression.
Women at risk for pregnancy depression
Research has identified many different factors which increase the risk of pregnancy depression. Let’s take a look at them below.
- Lack of social support
- Not having a partner
- History of abuse
- History of domestic violence
- History of mental illness, including depression and anxiety
- History of miscarriage
- History of complications during pregnancy
- High-stress levels
- Adverse events
- Unplanned pregnancy
Therefore, if a woman identifies with any of these risk factors, it’s crucial that she receive adequate care both before, during and after pregnancy to protect her mental health, along with the health and development of her child.
What to do about pregnancy depression
Pregnancy depression, just like other forms of depression, can be treated and managed with both medication and alternative treatments, including psychotherapy, light therapy, and herbal remedies.
What’s most important is to acknowledge depression and seek support in whatever way you’re comfortable with.
It’s also important to bear in mind that you need to be your most adamant advocate. Unfortunately, medical care providers can and do dismiss depression in pregnant women, and even social support systems can let women down.
This adds an extra challenge to women who are already struggling with pregnancy depression. However, always bear in mind that you are worth taking care of and that if you’re not feeling okay, you’re probably not okay.
And you deserve to feel well – mentally, physically and emotionally.