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Depression during Pregnancy

You are not alone in your struggle.

So, what is depression, and what does it have to do with pregnancy?

Depression is a mental health condition caused by feelings of sadness, that affects one’s ability to cope with life over a period of time longer than 2 weeks. It is more commonly experienced by women than men. 1 in 8 women will likely experience depression at least once during their lifetime most likely between the ages of 25 and 44, and 7% of pregnant women experience depression during their pregnancy (this is a global statistic – meaning it’s an average based on experiences of women all over the world). Postpartum depression is a term you may have heard about, and it refers to depression occurring within 12 months of delivering a baby (more on this later).

If you think you may be experiencing pregnancy-related depression, please reach out to a member of the PRC team.

Symptoms of Depression During Pregnancy

“The signs and symptoms of depression during pregnancy are the same as those that occur with depression in the general population. However, additional clues that might indicate depression during pregnancy include:

  • Excessive anxiety about your baby
  • Low self-esteem, such as feelings of inadequacy about parenthood
  • The inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable.
  • Poor response to reassurance
  • Poor adherence to prenatal care
  • Smoking, drinking alcohol or using illicit drugs
  • Poor weight gain due to a decreased or inadequate diet
  • Thoughts of suicide

Some research suggests that depressive episodes occur more frequently during the first and third trimesters.” (from the Mayo Clinic)

“General depression symptoms include:

  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness, or hopelessness
  • Angry outbursts, irritability, or frustration, even over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies, or sports
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
  • Anxiety, agitation, or restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking, or body movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions, and remembering things
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or suicide
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

For many people with depression, symptoms usually are severe enough to cause noticeable problems in day-to-day activities, such as work, school, social activities, or relationships with others. Some people may feel generally miserable or unhappy without really knowing why.” (from the Mayo Clinic)

If you’ve been pregnant before, some of the symptoms listed above sound like symptoms typically experienced during pregnancy, such as: more emotional, sleep disturbances, tiredness, changes in appetite, and new aches like backaches and headaches. You’re right! That’s why it is even harder to diagnose depression during pregnancy; women assume that what they’re feeling is normal during pregnancy, and thus ignore the symptoms. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that pregnant women be screened for depression and anxiety symptoms at least once during their pregnancy. If your doctor has not talked to you about depression, please ask to be given a depression screening assessment. Of course, diagnosing depression is not enough: depression disorder typically does not improve without treatment.

depression during pregnancy

Are that many pregnant women dealing with depression?

Great question! According to the CDC’s Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System, in 2017, 12.8% of pregnant women self-reported depression in the 3 months before pregnancy, 12% self-reported depression during pregnancy, and 12.5% self-reported postpartum depressive symptoms. Given the total number of births per year in the US, 12% of those means almost 500,000 women! Half a million women dealing with depression during pregnancy: that’s staggering! The women who are at higher risk of experiencing depression disorder are those who are also dealing with anxiety and life stress, or those who have a history of depression, have poor social support, are faced with an unintended pregnancy, or are experiencing intimate partner violence.

What’s the big deal?

Even though depression can lead to suicide, depression during pregnancy is not a physical emergency that leads to immediate threatening complications. However, it has been shown to potentially impact the health of the mother and the baby (pre-born and after birth).

“Antepartum depression can affect more than your mental and emotional health. It can also affect your physical health and your baby’s well-being. Studies have found that antepartum depression can lead to serious health risks during and after pregnancy, like:

  • preeclampsia (high blood pressure, which can cause damage to your kidneys, liver, lungs, heart, and may cause seizures and stroke).
  • low birth weight (babies born with low birthweight may be more likely to have certain health conditions later in life, including: diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, intellectual and developmental disabilities, metabolic syndrome, and obesity)
  • early (preterm) delivery
  • C-section delivery (this carries certain risks such as: from anesthesia, blood loss, infection, a longer recovery period and an increased risk for postpartum depression. Women who have delivered by C-section are also at risk of a C-section ectopic pregnancy with their future pregnancies)
  • postpartum depression

It can also affect your baby’s brain development. Babies born to mothers with untreated antepartum depression are at higher risk of learning difficulties and behavioral problems. A decades-long study in Finland followed the children of women who had antepartum depression into adulthood. Researchers found that many of these adults, especially men, were diagnosed with mood disorders like antisocial personality disorder.” (from healthline.com)

How do I get help?

Make sure to talk to your doctor if you or your family notice signs of depression. “Some women don’t tell anyone about their symptoms. They feel embarrassed, ashamed, or guilty about feeling depressed when they are supposed to be happy. They worry they will be viewed as unfit parents. Any woman may become depressed during pregnancy or after having a baby. It doesn’t mean you are a bad or ‘not together’ mom.

Here are some other helpful tips:

  • Rest as much as you can.
  • Don’t try to do too much or try to be perfect.
  • Ask your partner, family, and friends for help.
  • Make time to go out, visit friends, or spend time alone with your partner.
  • Discuss your feelings with your partner, family, and friends.
  • Talk with other mothers so you can learn from their experiences.
  • Join a support group. Ask your doctor about groups in your area.
  • Don’t make any major life changes during pregnancy or right after giving birth. Major changes can cause unneeded stress. Sometimes big changes can’t be avoided. When that happens, try to arrange support and help in your new situation ahead of time.

The two common types of treatment for depression are:

  • Talk therapy This involves talking to a therapist, psychologist, or social worker to learn to change how depression makes you think, feel, and act.
  • Medicine Your doctor can prescribe an antidepressant medicine. These medicines can help relieve symptoms of depression.” (from womenshealth.gov)
depression during pregnancy

What is postpartum depression?

This is depression experienced by a woman up to 12 months after giving birth. It may be triggered by wild swings in hormone levels due to childbirth, feeling tired after delivery and from caring for a new baby, feeling overwhelmed from caring for your newborn, stress from handling all the changes that come with having an infant, feeling less attractive, and losing your personal space and free time.

You may be wondering if postpartum depression is the same as the baby blues. Everyone knows that many women experience the baby blues and they turn out to be fine. What’s the difference? That’s a great question, and here’s a quick summary of both:

“Signs and symptoms of baby blues — which last only a few days to a week or two after your baby is born — may include:

  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness
  • Irritability
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Crying
  • Reduced concentration
  • Appetite problems
  • Trouble sleeping

Postpartum depression may be mistaken for baby blues at first — but the signs and symptoms are more intense and last longer, and may eventually interfere with your ability to care for your baby and handle other daily tasks. Symptoms usually develop within the first few weeks after giving birth but may begin earlier ― during pregnancy ― or later — up to a year after birth.

Postpartum depression signs and symptoms may include:

  • Depressed mood or severe mood swings
  • Excessive crying
  • Difficulty bonding with your baby
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
  • Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
  • Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
  • Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • Intense irritability and anger
  • Fear that you’re not a good mother
  • Hopelessness
  • Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
  • Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
  • Restlessness
  • Severe anxiety and panic attacks
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

Untreated, postpartum depression may last for many months or longer.” (from the Mayo Clinic)

If you identify with some of the depression symptoms above, please reach out for help: talk to your doctor or your therapist about it. If you want to talk to a woman about your feelings, the staff and volunteers at the Pregnancy Resource Center are here to support you. While PRC client advocates are not medical or psychiatric professionals, and they do not diagnose or treat medical conditions, you may find it helpful to be able to talk openly about your feelings and struggles with another woman, in a safe and confidential setting like the Pregnancy Resource Center. Our desire for you is to have optimal holistic wellbeing/health, and that involves your physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs/goals. Our centers are open daily for in person visits, but if you’d rather speak to someone over a virtual platform, we would be more than happy to meet with you over the phone or video chat. Give us a call today.