Pregnancy depression has the potential to put mothers at the risk of obstetric problems, may harm babies in the womb, and even increase the threat of postpartum depression. Its fall out robs women of their happiness and excitement to become a mother.
Pregnancy depression affects about one in every ten US women aged between 18 and 45 years and they are most vulnerable during their pregnancy. According to a report of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, about 20 to 30% pregnant women suffer from mild to serious depression. Many unaware of it consider such symptoms as normative experiences of pregnancy and rarely a proper inquiry in to the mental state is made.
We must recognize that depression is an illness and can affect anyone, including a pregnant woman. She, just like others, too has options to safely treat, manage, and get out of depression. The right kind of awareness, help, and support make her recover fast and swiftly and even prevent the mental disorder.
Understanding Pregnancy Depression
Depression affecting a pregnant woman manifests in mood disorder, feeling of sadness, down, and despair. It is a biological illness induced by altered chemicals in the brain and no way different from clinical depression. Hormone changes in pregnant women impact the brain chemicals regulating the mood and this leads to depression. However, the disorder is not studied differently as symptoms overlap that of pregnancy. This exacerbated the depression with the potential to impact the mother and her baby when lasts for weeks.
It is different from postpartum depression in its occurrence and intensity. Pregnancy depression is less intense and occurs before the childbirth. Unlike postpartum depression, it does not resolve on its own and may grow stronger.
Pregnancy Depression Signs and Symptoms
Overlapping of depression symptoms with that of pregnancy often makes clear-cut separation difficult. For example, both conditions generate a certain degree of worry about health. You may have different types of thought or altered concentration. However, when symptoms persist for long, start impacting your life, and you are unable to cope with, it is certain to be depression.
The most visible signs of depression during pregnancy include,
- persistent overwhelming sadness for more than 2 weeks
- unable to concentrate, sleep for usual hours, and remain engaged in work
- anxiety, despair, stress, fear, guilt feeling
- considering your life worthless, empty, or unexcited
- not interested in daily activities, even ignoring what you preferred earlier or considered fun
- recurring negative thoughts
- changes in eating habits
- tension, fatigue, muscle aches
- prone to irritation or agitation
- feeling of crying, low energy
- not interested in things around you
- fear of losing control
Panic attacks or compulsive-obsessive behavior are less apparent but cannot be ruled out.
Causes of Depression in Pregnant Women
Depression is an illness and it is common to affect a woman whether pregnant or not. However, there are certain factors that trigger depression during pregnancy or increase the risk.
- Depression is hereditary or visible in other family members
- Prior history of struggling with depression, anxiety, or any psychological disorder
- Earlier postpartum depression
- Failed relationships, breakup, or social tension
- Personal history of depression or anxiety
- Stressful events in life, unsupportive partner
- Financial problems, death of a close one
- Loss of pregnancy earlier
- Absence of social support, prevalence of isolation
- Unplanned pregnancy, unprepared to take responsibility of the child
- Victim of domestic violence, physical abuse, trauma
- Marital issues
- Complications of pregnancy
- Side effects of infertility treatments
- Certain medical conditions, such as premenstrual dysphoric disorder
How Harmful is Depression During Pregnancy?
For Mother: Depression may cause a pregnant woman to live in a disturbed mental state. She may unwittingly lead a life or engage in habits with a bearing on the prenatal health of the baby. Poor nutrition, inadequate oxygen supply, hormonal imbalance, increased risk of postpartum depression, preterm labor, and associated psychological problems are linked to persistent depression during pregnancy.
It is common for depressed pregnant women to take recourse to drugs, alcohol, or antidepressants. This may lead to babies born with physical and mental deformities. Pregnant woman with depression are vulnerable to suicidal thoughts, pregnancy termination, and improper physical care. It also increases the risk of preeclampsia, abnormal hypertension, fluid retention, and C-section child birth.
For Baby: Pregnancy depression poses a threat to prenatal health, safety, and care. As a depression plays a part in inadequate care during pregnancy, the baby in the womb is sure to bear the impact, including high chance of pregnancy termination. Lack of desire to develop baby may lead to premature birth, fetal hypertension, birth defects, neonatal health problems, low weight, and developmental issues. It is common to see babies born to depressed mothers are less active and with psychological problems, respiratory pain, pulmonary hypertension, and physical distress. They usually remain irritated and agitated. Intake of antidepressants may cause fatal and non-fatal birth deformities.
How To Deal With Pregnancy Depression
Depression during pregnancy is not uncommon. It is one of the many complications women face at this stage of life. Just like any other psychological and physical disorder, it can be treated, managed, cured, and even prevented. No doubt, the special situation puts certain preconditions restricting choices, and a pregnant woman finds it difficult to cope with in view of ongoing physical, hormonal, and emotional changes. But, still there are many options to overcome it and stop its overwhelming effects.
- Psychotherapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy and other modes of psychotherapy help manage and change the thinking process and facilitate emotional control. This inhibits negative thoughts, tension, feeling of being sadness, and anxiety leaving no room for despair to overwhelm you. It also makes you better equipped to handle emotional problems that trigger depression.
- Light Therapy: An exposure to light at regulated time interval help up the mood and relieve depression.
- Meditation: Meditation helps with better breathing, circulatory, and emotional control.
- Other Alternative Therapies: Relaxation techniques, acupuncture, emotional therapy, acupressure, group therapy, skill therapy, massage, and similar therapies are known to insulate body and mind against negative emotions.
Life Style Changes
- Regular exercise is known to increase production of mood-enhancing brain chemicals. It also increases blood-oxygen circulation in the body that recharges brain cells. Research shows walking has effects similar to anti-depressants.
- Increase nutrition intake. Good and healthy eating energizes the body and saves it from crashing to low energy levels. An invigorated body certainly boosts psychological confidence and keeps you physically fit. Avoid high caffine, sugary, or processed food. Increase amount of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet.
- Sleep is a mood stabilizer and refresher. Those deprived of sleep are more susceptible to depression. Ensure you have enough hours to sleep.
- Socialization acts like a therapy for pregnant woman to overcome depression. Shun isolation and increase social interaction with friends, family, neighbors, and even join social media groups.
- Avoid stress in day-to-day life. Don’t allow events in life to cause stress. Devise ways to evade, curtail, or eliminate stress as much as possible. Ensure you have adequate rest.
Anti-depressants are the most common medications suggested to manage depression during pregnancy. They act by regulating production of mood-controlling enzymes in the brain. However, recent studies link these medicines to various incidents of babies born with deformities and malformations. So, keep medications as the last option and try to manage depression with lifestyle changes and alternative therapies. Whenever taking medicines consult your doctor and apprise him your concerns.
There are many herbal medicines are also available. However, these are mostly mineral, vitamins, and other supplements. Talk to your nutritionist before using any herbal medication.
Tips To Prevent/ Overcome Depression During Pregnancy
- Learn more about depression. Your awareness is your first line of defense. Once you know the signs, symptoms, reasons, and potential ways to avoid it, you are better placed to overcome depression and enjoy your pregnancy.
- Make necessary lifestyle changes, stay connected to friends and family, remain engaged with your interest, and eliminate stress in life.
- Do regular exercise subject to your comfort level.
- Be mentally prepared to fight depression and prevent it from affecting your pregnancy and baby. Psychological strength is the biggest tool to fight sadness and despair.
- Read books, enjoy TV shows, join groups, increase social media participation, and even reach out to other pregnant women.
- Always remind yourself that depression is not untreatable and there are ways to stop it. Resist the urge of negative emotions and try to visualize a positive future. Ensure your thoughts are not tangled with past mistakes or fears for future events. Pat yourself to become brave enough to live and fight in a productive way.
- Make self-care your priority. Never compromise your physical or psychological health at any cost.
- Don’t miss your meals. Chalk out an individualized diet plan in consultation with your nutritionist.
- Never put depression and pregnancy on one side. Consider pregnancy a positive step in your life. Your commitment to the wellbeing of your baby will give you strength to overcome depression.
- Don’t be shy away from seeking help. Depression does not make one a pariah. Better talk about it openly and seek advice and support whenever required.
Ravneet also blogs at www.wellnessguide.com