Many women struggle with pregnancy depression. In most cases, it is because they cannot manage the hormonal changes occurring inside their body. Women can also struggle with pregnancy depression because of the fear that comes with them being pregnant. There are both natural treatments and medications for depression during pregnancy that can be taken. However, many of them come with their risks which could put the unborn child at risk.
What Is Depression?
Women, in general, tend to battle depression approximately 25 percent of the time. According to the ACOG, also known as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, up to 23 percent of pregnant women struggle with depression. It can happen at any point during the pregnancy — from before the woman knows she is pregnant, up to and including labor. It can also be something that a woman mildly recognizes during the pregnancy and creeps up more in the days and weeks following delivery.
Depression is typically the result of brain chemical changes that come directly from the new pregnancy hormones that the body creates. However, it is just like clinical depression when looked at scientifically. Normal situations may become more difficult to handle during the emotional times of pregnancy, exacerbating the feelings that go with pregnancy depression.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Pregnancy Depression?
Each woman experiences different symptoms as she faces pregnancy depression. Some only feel one or two symptoms, while others feel more. Here are some of the most common symptoms of women who are diagnosed with pregnancy depression experience.
- The inability to concentrate on situations as they once could
- Feelings of overwhelming sadness for no explainable reason
- Unexplained anxiety or feeling as though something is always going to go wrong
- Sleeping for too many hours per day
- Feeling unable to make proper decisions
- Insomnia that stems from anxiety or fear over the pregnancy
- Crying uncontrollably or more than is necessary for a given event
- Recurring thoughts about dying or worthlessness
- Eating far too much or far too little to be healthy for the pregnancy
- Finding no fun or joy in the activities that once brought joy
Does the Pregnancy Trigger the Depression?
In nearly all cases, the pregnancy itself does not trigger the depression. Instead, it is something the woman is susceptible to even before she becomes pregnant. Between her current situation and the hormonal changes, the depression comes forward, and the symptoms become apparent. There are other pregnancy depression triggers, however. They include:
- Relationship issues with the father of the child
- Having a history of any form of depression
- Trauma or any abuse at home
- Loss of pregnancies in the past, adding anxiety or pressure to this pregnancy
- Chronic pain associated with pregnancy
- Pregnancy complications that leave the woman feeling she has no control
- Events in life that create a stressful environment around the mother
How Pregnancy Depression Can Have an Effect on Baby
There are several ways that pregnancy depression can manifest itself into a problem for the unborn child. First, pregnant women need to take care of themselves. If they are unable or unwilling to take care of themselves, it directly impacts the overall health of the child they deliver. A pregnant woman needs to eat right, get regular exercise, see the doctor for all of her prenatal care, and get enough sleep. Without those things, her baby could be born unhealthy and could even struggle with lifelong ailments as a result.
Women using substances to try and battle pregnancy depression on their own can harm both themselves and their unborn baby. Many researchers have gone through and been able to document the effects of drinking, smoking, and drug use during pregnancy. If a pregnant woman is not taking care of herself properly, she may resort to using these substances, leaving her and her child at risk.
Pregnancy depression also increases the chances of delivering an unhealthy baby. It can show up in many ways, including:
- Lower birth weight. When babies are born to depressed mothers, they often come out under the ideal birth weight for a full-term baby.
- Early delivery. Many babies are born early (before 37 weeks gestation) when their mother struggles with pregnancy depression.
- Small size. Babies born to mothers struggling with pregnancy depression are often born smaller than expected for their gestational age.
Can You Prevent Pregnancy Depression?
Some things can be done to reduce the chances of pregnancy depression developing. First, the woman should surround herself with as many supportive people as possible. It should include her obstetrician, so she can have help watching for signs or symptoms to develop. Next, she should make sure she is in a safe situation during her pregnancy. If she is in a situation where trauma or abuse could happen, she should remove herself and find a safe place to stay.
Support groups are another great way of preventing depression. They give the pregnant woman a safe place to talk about what is going through her mind, without adding more pressure to her to be something she feels incapable of being. It can be a place to talk about her pregnancy fears, to talk about past losses, or even to discuss the way she currently feels about her pregnancy without judgment.
If pain is part of the trigger for pregnancy depression, a doctor’s advice should also be sought out on how to manage the pain. Going from being able to move freely to feeling ill or in chronic pain can cause an internal struggle for many pregnant women. The more a doctor can help women manage the pain, the less likely depression symptoms are to show up from that type of trigger.
Treatment Options for Pregnancy Depression
Luckily for pregnant women, there are quite a few options for treating pregnancy depression. Therapy is a wonderful way of working through the depression without turning to medication since not all of it is safe while pregnant. However, if a woman discovers she is pregnant while already taking medication, she must speak with her obstetrician prior to tapering or stopping the medication. It may put the woman at risk of suicide to abruptly stop taking the medication, so monitoring or switching medications may be necessary.
There are homeopathic options for battling depression, as well, but not all of them are safe for pregnant women. Some herbs are dangerous to take while pregnant and could lead to preterm labor. In this situation, a woman needs to speak with her doctor to find out what is safe and what should be avoided.
Antidepressant Safety During Pregnancy
Overall, the data that has been gathered around the most widely prescribed antidepressants found that there is little or no risk of taking antidepressants while pregnant. However, this is not a blanket for all types of antidepressant medication. While most varieties do not show that they pose a risk to an unborn child, there is no guarantee that it is safe. Doctor’s advice should always be sought, and regular checkups should always be kept to keep an unborn child as safe as possible.
Pregnancy depression should not be ignored. It can affect the health of both the mother and her unborn child in many ways, both immediately and over time. Instead of ignoring any signs or symptoms of pregnancy depression, it should be something a woman speaks with her obstetrician about as soon as she finds out she is pregnant, or before if the pregnancy is planned. That way, all steps can be taken to ensure that both the mom and child can remain healthy.