Pregnancy is supposed to be one of the happiest times of a woman’s life, but for many women, this is a time of confusion, fear, stress, and even depression. Pregnancy depression is a mood disorder that involves feeling sad or hopeless for at least two weeks. You may also feel extremely irritated or anxious about your baby and have difficulty concentrating or sleeping.
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. It’s normal to feel down from time to time. But if you’re depressed, you experience feelings of sadness or hopelessness that last for weeks or even months.
Depression is a mood disorder that can affect every aspect of your life, from how you think and act to how you eat and sleep. During pregnancy, it can impact your ability to care for yourself and your baby.
All too often, depression is not diagnosed properly during pregnancy because people think it is just another type of hormonal imbalance.
This assumption can be dangerous for the mother and the unborn baby. Depression in pregnancy is an illness that can be treated and managed. We’ll talk more about the different causes, symptoms, and the various treatment methods of postpartum depression.
Causes of Depression During Pregnancy
Pre-existing Mental Health Condition
If you’ve been diagnosed with depression in the past or depression runs in your family, tell your practitioner, since there’s a greater chance you’ll experience depression during pregnancy.
Existence of An External Stressor.
Caring for an aging parent, grieving over the loss of a loved one, fighting with your partner, or being worried about finances are all examples of stress factors that can take an emotional toll on you and trigger depression when you’re expecting.
Genetics may play a role too. Depression tends to run in families. If anyone in your family has a history of depression or any other mood disorder, you’re more susceptible to experiencing it too.
If you had trouble getting pregnant, have had a miscarriage in the past, or are experiencing a high-risk pregnancy, you may be worried about losing the baby you’ve tried so hard to conceive. Women under this kind of stress are at greater risk for pregnancy depression.
Depression is more common among moms-to-be who didn’t plan on getting pregnant or didn’t want to.
Both preexisting diabetes and gestational diabetes are tied to a higher risk of pregnancy depression.
That kind of stress along with the accompanying feelings of low self-esteem, helplessness, fear, and isolation can all contribute to depression symptoms. If you are in an abusive or violent relationship or other situation, you should seek help immediately.
Alcohol and Substance Abuse.
All are tied to a greater chance for pregnancy depression — which is just one more reason you should steer clear of all three when you’re expecting.
Levels of thyroid hormone, which regulate how your body uses and stores energy in food, can fluctuate during pregnancy, which can cause symptoms of depression. A simple blood test can tell if a thyroid condition is causing these symptoms.
Hormones directly affect the brain chemistry that controls emotions and mood. Those same hormonal fluctuations that wreak premenstrual emotional havoc can lead to prenatal depression.
Symptoms of depression during pregnancy
Some symptoms of depression, such as fatigue or trouble sleeping, are normal during pregnancy. But you may have prenatal depression when you have a sense of sadness or hopelessness, lose interest or pleasure in things that you used to enjoy, or aren’t able to function in your daily life, and these symptoms last for weeks.
You may be depressed if you’ve experienced any of the following symptoms for at least two weeks:
- Losing interest in daily activities, or having a sense that nothing is enjoyable anymore
- Feeling sad, or empty for most of the day, every day
- Having low self-esteem.
- Crying all the time
- Feeling extremely irritated or agitated
- Feeling anxious about your baby
- Finding it hard to concentrate or make decisions
- Having low energy or extreme fatigue that doesn’t improve with rest
- Experiencing changes in your patterns of eating or sleeping, such as wanting to eat or sleep all the time or not being able to eat or sleep at all
- Having overwhelming feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or hopelessness
- Feeling that life isn’t worth living
- Poor response to reassurance
- Poor adherence to prenatal care such as ultrasound scans etc.
- Poor weight gain due to a decreased or inadequate diet
- Thoughts of suicide
Treatments for pregnancy depression
Untreated depression during pregnancy can morph into postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety after your baby is born. The good news is that there are lots of treatment options that can help you feel better, including:
A lot of pregnant women will require only non-medical treatment options to get better, the following options are worth considering:
Psychotherapy or talk therapy.
Meeting with a therapist (either in person or virtually) can help you work through the challenges of going through a big life change and find ways to cope.
Also called phototherapy, it simply involves spending time by a high-intensity bright-light lamp to increase levels of the mood-regulating hormone serotonin in the brain.
The ancient practice of acupuncture can trigger the release of feel-good brain chemicals called endorphins which can help improve your mood as well as ease other pregnancy symptoms like morning sickness or back pain.
Pregnancy fatigue can intensify the mood swings you may be having, so make sure you’re getting enough rest. Go to bed early, sleep late or take naps when you can.
Spend time outside.
Being in nature Being outside in nature has been proven to reduce stress and depression symptoms. So take a walk in the woods, have a picnic in the park, or plan a day at the beach.
Balanced pregnancy diet.
Regular snacks and meals can keep your blood sugar up, keeping your moods stable. Avoid caffeine, sugar, and processed foods, and opt instead for a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids (try walnuts, fish, and enriched eggs).
Regular, frequent physical activity boosts feel-good endorphins and has been shown to help stabilize your moods — some research has even found that regular aerobic exercise is as effective at treating depression as taking an antidepressant.
Spend time with your family and friends.
Make time to visit friends and family and be alone with your partner. It can help you feel closer and boost your mood.
If your symptoms are more severe, your doctor may want to treat your depression more aggressively with antidepressants. There is a lot of debate over the safety and long-term effects of antidepressant medications taken during pregnancy. Some research now shows that certain medications used to treat depression may be linked to problems in newborns such as physical malformations, heart problems, pulmonary hypertension, and low birth weight.
Women need to know that all medications will cross the placenta and reach their babies. There is not enough information about which drugs are entirely safe and which ones pose risks. But when treating major depression, the risks and benefits need to be examined closely. The medication that can offer the most help, with the smallest risk to the baby, should be considered carefully. Pregnant women have a few different options to choose from, including:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), including fluoxetine, sertraline, and citalopram are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants for pregnant women.
- Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), including duloxetine and venlafaxine.
- Bupropion, which is not considered a first-line treatment but can be used if a pregnant woman is not responding to other antidepressants.
- Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), such as nortriptyline.
Antidepressants aren’t the right choice for everyone, and it’s important to weigh the benefits and risks with your doctor.