One of the most serious problems when you’re expecting a baby is depression. It’s important to know the signs of prenatal depression and when to seek treatment.
Depression During Pregnancy
Although pregnancy is supposed to be the happiest time in a woman’s life, many experience a myriad of emotions that are quite the opposite. Pregnant women can experience fear, stress, confusion and even depression. Specifically, prenatal depression is a mood disorder that affects 10 to 20 percent of women during pregnancy. In addition, one out of every 20 women also experience a major depressive disorder while pregnant.
While postpartum depression is a very common and well-known disorder in women after they have given birth, prenatal depression is less known. Unfortunately, many women go undiagnosed because many believe that the mood changes they experience during pregnancy happen simply due to the normal hormonal changes pregnant women go through. However, this can be very dangerous for both mother and baby as it is an illness that needs to be treated and managed. Women must know what to look out for and when to seek help.
Prenatal Depression: Signs and Symptoms
Generally, in a normal pregnancy, a woman can experience a number of signs and symptoms of depression, including weight gain, insomnia and moodiness. However, these normal symptoms can make it more difficult to notice depression during pregnancy. The following include symptoms of prenatal depression:
• Change in appetite
• Frequent crying and persistent sadness
• Difficulty concentrating
• Difficulty sleeping or insomnia not caused by frequent urination
• Increased anxiety
• Fatigue or low energy
• Loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy
• A feeling of guilt or worthlessness
• Sleeping too much
• Constant thoughts of death or suicide
• Feeling unconnected to your developing baby
Women who experienced depression symptoms prior to their pregnancy may notice they are heightened during pregnancy.
Prenatal Depression Triggers
There are many situations and events that can trigger prenatal depression. The following are among the most common:
• Prior pregnancy loss
• Stressful life events
• Family or personal history of depression
• Relationship problems
• Infertility treatments
• History of abuse or trauma
Can Pregnancy Depression Harm the Baby?
It is normal to worry about the effects of any illness on an unborn baby. Depression is no different. If the condition is not treated, there may be significant risks to both the mother and the baby. When prenatal depression is left untreated, it can result in a number of problems, including smoking, drinking, malnutrition and even suicidal behavior. All of these issues can lead to premature birth, low birth weight and developmental problems in the baby. Additionally, if a woman is suffering from depression, she will generally be less inclined to care for the baby as well as herself.
Babies who are born to mothers suffering from depression have other problems as well, including a lower attention span, more agitation and decreased activity levels.
Treatment for Prenatal Depression
If you are pregnant and dealing with depression, the first step toward treatment is seeking help. Speak with your primary-care doctor or OB/GYN and discuss your symptoms in detail. Your doctor will advise you about the treatment options that are available to you to benefit both you and your unborn baby. You may be recommended to join a support group or prescribed psychotherapy, light therapy or medication.
In cases of mild-to-moderate depression, a pregnant woman can get treatment through psychotherapy, light therapy or a support group. However, if the depression is severe, the treatment may be a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Of course, medications also affect the baby, so the doctor will determine the best and safest option. For some women, alternative or natural treatment options may be effective.
They may include the following:
• Exercise: Exercising can naturally increase serotonin levels, which can boost mood.
• Acupuncture: Acupuncture may help in treating prenatal depression, because it can resolve blockages
• Omega-3 fatty acids: Daily supplements of omega-3 fatty acids or fish oil can relieve the symptoms of depression.
• Getting adequate rest: More rest can better equip you to deal with everyday stress.
• Dietary changes: Cutting certain things out of your diet, such as sugar, caffeine, artificial ingredients and processed carbohydrates, can improve mood and your mental health as well as your physical health.
• Certain herbs: Certain herbs and vitamins can improve your mood and increase serotonin. Always speak with a doctor before starting any regimen.
Depression can be a crippling illness. It’s important to get help and treatment to manage your symptoms even if you aren’t pregnant. If you’re pregnant, it’s even more of an urgent situation to seek treatment for the benefit of you and your unborn child.