Did you know that up to 10% of all pregnant women experience prenatal depression? And the chances are that the number is much higher since not all of them seek professional help.
Some women think it’s only baby blues. Others say it’s hormonal and it will go away. Others feel something is wrong but are ashamed to admit to feeling this way.
In many cases, women feel pressure from society to rejoice in their situation, to glow, to feel blessed and happy all the time.
So many changes can take a toll on even the strongest of us, and the unconscionable lack of support for expectant and new parents in the U.S. has a lot to do with how happy women are before and after they have kids.
But let’s try to shed some light on the issue.
WHAT IS PRENATAL DEPRESSION?
It’s difficult to notice changes in the context of pregnancy. It is even harder when it’s your first pregnancy.
Your body changes, your priorities change, and there are a lot of new restrictions to consider now and in the next few years.
No matter how much you want your child and how long you’ve tried to get pregnant, all these changes will come tumbling down on you all at once. It would not hurt to ask yourself what is prenatal depression.
“Depression during pregnancy, or antepartum depression, is a mood disorder just like clinical depression. Mood disorders are biological illnesses that involve changes in brain chemistry.
During pregnancy, hormone changes can affect the chemicals in your brain, which are directly related to depression and anxiety. These can be exacerbated by difficult life situations, which can result in depression during pregnancy.” (source)
SIGNS OF PRENATAL DEPRESSION
Sometimes, a doctor can recognize the signs of prenatal depression only by looking at a patient. Other times, women try really hard to hide it because they believe something is wrong with them, that they should not be feeling this way and that it will pass by itself. Unfortunately, it doesn’t, and treatment is necessary to avoid complications.
Here are some of the prenatal depression symptoms:
- Changes in sleeping patterns – you cannot get any rest, or you want to sleep all the time
- Feeling very fatigued
- Changes in eating patterns – complete lack of appetite or excessive appetite
- Anxiety about the future, about your ability to raise a child, even about the pregnancy
- Feelings of guilt, failure and inability to live up to society’s expectations about mothers-to-be (you don’t look flawless and glowing like celebrity moms, the nursery is not done yet, you have not started reading to your baby, you have not yet chosen a kindergarten, and you fall short in other aspects of “perfect” motherhood, etc.)
- Loss of interest in any of the activities you used to enjoy
- Difficulty remembering things
- Extreme irritability
- Loss of interest in sex
- Excessive weight loss or weight gain
The most severe sign of depression and the one you must take immediate action against is having thoughts of suicide, death or any intention of harming yourself and your baby.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN BABY BLUES AND DEPRESSION
Many women go through low states. Some experience all of them, while others experience only some.
The main difference between baby blues and prenatal depression consists of how long it lasts and how much it affects your daily routine.
Baby blues are usually caused by a sudden hormonal surge, an imbalance that eventually gets leveled out, allowing you to think straight again.
With depression, you will be experiencing those symptoms for weeks, even months on end. They will not go away, and they even risk getting worse as your delivery date approaches.
Also, depression affects your daily routine making you feel unable or not motivated to do anything at all.
CAUSES OF PRENATAL DEPRESSION
A child is a great responsibility. So is pregnancy itself. There are so many changes, so many restrictions and so many expectations to live up to. Any woman would feel overwhelmed and fall prey to prenatal anxiety and depression.
It’s not all about your financial and marital status. Your body plays a trick on you as well. Here are some of the most common causes of depression:
- Hormonal imbalances
- A difficult pregnancy: inability to adapt to all the changes the body goes through
- Inability to sleep because of the pregnancy
- Inability to eat right on account of numerous restrictions
- A constant backache and other discomforts
- Thyroid issues
- Stressing about all the medical bills
- Not prepping the nursery
- Stressing about not being able to put in extra time at the job
- Job insecurity
- Being a single parent
- An unplanned pregnancy
- Being young and unprepared
- Being alone, without support
- Personal history of depression and anxiety
- Stressful life events
- Toxic relationships such as domestic violence
- Difficulties in getting pregnant and severe emotional stress about the issue (having lost a pregnancy in the past, for example)
- Feeling pressured by the family
- Not living up to the modern model of a pregnant woman
- Feeling pressured about having everything ready for baby
- Comparing yourself to other pregnant women: the glamorous mommy-to-be who did not gain weight, the ZEN mommy who has it all figured out, and the mommy who can offer her child everything you cannot, not to mention the one whose pregnancy looks like a breeze
PRENATAL DEPRESSION TEST
While it is normal to feel anxious about any of the above-mentioned issues, it becomes a problem when your mental condition is stopping you from doing anything at all. Luckily, you have a prenatal depression test available to discover whether it is an issue and whether to take it up with your doctor or simply wait it out.
There are several versions of the test you can find online. As you search the internet, you might notice that the questions and their order differ, yet they are all meant to cover most of the areas possibly affected by depression. At the end of the test, you will have to add your score. Depending on how the test is thought up, you can tell whether you show signs of depression or not.
One thing to keep in mind is that you need to be honest in your answers and to consider how you felt in the past week or even in the past few weeks. If your test results show you are not depressed but are still not feeling yourself, see a doctor to get checked out.
PRENATAL DEPRESSION EFFECTS ON THE FETUS AND THE NEWBORN
The main reason why you should not wait it out is that there are prenatal depression effects on the fetus and the newborn to consider.
„[…] studies show that untreated or under-treated depression can lead to preterm delivery, low birth weight, possibly gestational diabetes and, in severe cases, developmental delays in baby. What’s more, depression may not end when your pregnancy does. Being depressed when you’re pregnant also puts you at a higher risk of postpartum depression.” (source)
PRENATAL DEPRESSION TREATMENT
Knowing that there are so many risks should lead you to seek help. After that, your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist specializing in prenatal depression treatment. Possible treatments include:
- Discussions to relieve anxiety about the future
- Therapy to get to the underlining issues of a woman’s fears
- Medication in cases where discussions do not help
Many women avoid seeking prenatal depression help because they are afraid they will be prescribed antidepressants and they want to avoid taking pills and exposing their baby to them. However, an untreated condition can lead to postpartum depression and a continued difficulty to cope with the situation. If the condition quickly escalates, it could be more difficult to control.
The drugs prescribed in this situation are usually compatible with pregnancy, but your doctor will need to keep an eye on you. Not eating and not sleeping right can also harm your baby.
Seek the help you need. Sometimes, even talking things out with your partner, with your mother, sister or a friend can help. It doesn’t have to be all about therapy and medication. But, it needs to be something to help you get through this time. Prenatal depression is a reality, and you must not take it lightly.