Depression during pregnancy is more common than you’d think, affecting about 10-20% of women. While those nine months can be an exciting and joyful time in some women’s lives, it can be just the opposite for other women. Are suffering from depression during your pregnancy?
What is Depression During Pregnancy?
Many times depression may not be properly diagnosed since pregnant women often experience mild mood changes or a hormonal imbalance during pregnancy. But depression during pregnancy is not to be taken lightly as it is a mood disorder, or biological illness, that should be treated and managed – before, during and after pregnancy. According to the American Pregnancy Association, during pregnancy, “hormone changes can affect brain chemicals, which are directly related to depression and anxiety.” These, of course, can be aggravated by life stresses during pregnancy such as concerns for the health of the baby, finances, and fear of the unknown.
Symptoms of Depression in Pregnancy
Of course, feeling tired, having trouble sleeping and being concerned about your baby’s health is common during pregnancy. But when is it depression? When coupled with overwhelming feelings such as despair and sadness; interfering with your ability to function; having trouble concentrating; and feeling like nothing is enjoyable anymore. Discuss with your health care provider about your concerns.
Risk Factors for Antepartum Depression
Postpartum Support International sites some of the risk factors that could lead to antepartum depression. These include a personal or family history of depression, anxiety, or postpartum depression; premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD); financial or marital stress; complications during pregnancy; mothers of multiples; women who have gone through infertility treatments; women with a thyroid imbalance; and women with any form of diabetes. If you have any of these, plan ahead and talk to your health care provider about receiving the proper kind of care you may need.
Will Depression Hurt My Baby?
This is a common concern for women experiencing the blues during pregnancy. If left untreated, depression during pregnancy does have negative risks. Since depression and anxiety isn’t good for the mom’s body and brain, it’s not good for the growing baby. Why? Untreated illness could lead to: low birth weight and preterm delivery; babies born with high levels of cortisol, “the stress hormone,” creating irritability, difficulty sleeping and inconsolability in the baby; and developmental delays or behavioral problems (usually seen between the ages of 4-7).
Treatment for Depression During Pregnancy
If you are feeling depression or anxiety during your pregnancy, seek advice or counseling with your health practitioner. Do your homework and find someone who has experience in dealing specifically with mood problems during pregnancy and can offer solutions and steps to help treat your depression. Some forms of treatment include:
Take an Antidepressant
Taking medication, an antidepressant, prescribed by your health care provider is one option. This decision can be a controversial one, so please see our article “Antidepressants and Pregnancy.” (See our Related Links below.)
Join a Support Group
Find a good support system of people who are compassionate and non-judgmental. Indman says that pregnant women are usually welcome at postpartum depression support groups. Visit www.postpartum.net for local resources.
Talk with a Therapist
Consider therapy with an expert in mood and anxiety disorders during pregnancy. Mental health expert Pec Indman, EdD, MFT suggests that the kinds of therapy felt to be most effective and appropriate for pregnancy issues are Cognitive -Behavioral Therapy and Interpersonal Therapy as they deal in the hear and now
Move your body. Get your blood flowing. Find a class that focuses on fitness during pregnancy such as prenatal yoga, or simply increase your walking outside in the natural sunlight (giving you your daily dose of vitamin D while boosting your levels of serotonin!).
Just like light therapy is helpful for people with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) by resetting the body’s biological clock (or circadian rhythms), it could be helpful in treating depression during pregnancy as it also increases the production of serotonin (the neurotransmitter that can improve your mood). Indman says that bright light (or blue light) therapy should “come in above eye level for about 20-30 minutes each morning.” Be sure to angle it slightly downward toward your eyes, and don’t stare directly into the light – read, enjoy your breakfast or write in your journal. (It’s most effective when used first thing in the morning, and box offering a 10,000 lux light output is the most therapeutic.)
Take Your Omega-3’s
Make sure you’re taking some omega-3 fatty acid supplements, in addition to your prenatal. Indman claims that there is some evidence that omega-3 fatty acids can help with prenatal depression. Although be cautious when choosing your omega-3 supplements– make sure it is free of contamination with PCBs. Please discuss with your health care provider.
Focus on eating healthy, whole foods that are also mood boosters. In addition to taking supplements, increase your intake of foods rich in omega-3 oils such as walnuts and flaxseed oil, and try to steer clear of sugar and processed foods. For more details, see our article “Mood Boosting Foods for Perinatal Depression”.
Just know that antepartum depression is treatable and is temporary, and there is help out there for you. You’re not alone. For more information or to find a health care provider trained in perinatal depression, visit MedEd or Postpartum Support International. (See below for clickable links.)