Understanding and Dealing With Prenatal Depression
July 7, 2015
Much has been said and discussed regarding postpartum depression: it’s very common and a lot of women go through it. And while much has been and should continue to be said about postpartum depression, what if you start feeling depressed BEFORE the baby even arrives? Is that even possible?
For years, doctors didn’t think so. It was believed that pregnancy hormones protected against depression, and that it wasn’t possible for hormonal imbalances to lead to depression during pregnancy. We’ve now come to understand that not only is depression during pregnancy possible, but it is very serious and very often it is a precursor to postpartum depression.
Prenatal, or antenatal, depression, affects 14-23% of pregnant women at some point in their pregnancy according to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), which is an even higher incidence than postpartum depression. So why don’t we hear anything about depression DURING pregnancy?
The scary thing about prenatal depression is the symptoms because they are often times the same symptoms as pregnancy. From the American Pregnancy Association, some of the symptoms include:
- excessive fatigue
- change in or loss of appetite
- lack of interest in regular activities
- persistent sadness
- difficulty concentrating
- inability to care for oneself
And those are just a few. You can imagine how it can be easy to brush these off as “normal” pregnancy symptoms since most of them occur in pretty much every pregnancy. So how do you know if these symptoms are a normal part of pregnancy or a sign of something more serious?
If any of these symptoms last for 2 weeks or more, you should talk to someone about the possibility of depression. And don’t hesitate to do so. Depression during pregnancy can be especially harmful to both mama and baby. The symptoms listed above can lead to premature birth, low birth weight, and development problems in babies. Since it can be difficult to care for oneself in the midst of depression, it becomes even harder to give appropriate care and attention to babies. Babies with depressed mothers may be less active, show less attention, and show more agitation than babies born to moms without depression.
It’s important to acknowledge that prenatal depression is a biochemical condition, just like regular depression and postpartum depression, and it can be treated. If you think you may be suffering from depression during pregnancy, or at any time, know that so many people have spent countless hours and millions of dollars to find the safest and best ways to help you and the millions of others dealing with depression overcome it. If nothing else, just tell someone you trust that you think you may be going through this, and ask them to help you.
Some women are at a higher risk of developing prenatal depression than others. There are some factors that increase this risk, but the presence or absence of any of these risk factors does not automatically guarantee or prevent depression from occurring. Knowing that you have any of the risk factors and being mindful can go a long way in preventing depression from setting in. Some risk factors include:
- History of depression – either yourself or family members.
- Relationship difficulties – if there are problems in your relationship that can’t seem to be talked out, seek counseling or professional help.
- Fertility treatments – anxiety and stress from undergoing fertility treatments often carry over into pregnancy as fear of pregnancy loss and complications can be overwhelming.
- Stressful life events – switching jobs or transitioning from working to staying home, moving, financial worries, or changes in relationship status all add extra stress and worry to the life of a pregnant woman.
- History of abuse – women who have endured emotional, sexual, physical or verbal abuse are at a higher risk for depression.
- Those who are young, single, and/or have an unplanned pregnancy are also at a higher risk of prenatal depression.
Again, it is important to emphasize that having one or even all of these risk factors does not mean you will have depression. By understanding your personal risk for depression and creating a strong defense including a solid support team, informing your doctor and other healthcare providers of your risks, and taking the steps below under treatment, you can fight depression and keep control of your health and your pregnancy.
During pregnancy, a multifaceted approach is the best way to keep your depression at bay. This can include support groups, medication, psychotherapy, and light therapy.
The safety and effectiveness of taking certain antidepressant medication during pregnancy has been debated. It’s important to talk to your doctor and weigh the risks and benefits of taking or foregoing medication. If you prefer to avoid the use of medication during pregnancy, there are natural ways to help manage depression.
- Take care of yourself first. It can be too easy to get caught up in preparing for the baby, and leave yourself off of your to-do list. Stop. Take time to get ready in the morning. Read books you like. Delegate your responsibilities and recruit friends and family members to help you get ready. You shouldn’t have to prepare everything by yourself. An essential part of taking care of your baby is taking care of yourself. Give yourself plenty of attention and care so you can be your best self for your baby.
- Spend time with your partner. Have open dialogue about how you feel – your worries, concerns, excitement, and joys. Be honest and let them help you. Spend meaningful time together not just preparing for the baby, but in strengthening your relationship in every way.
- Find activities that you enjoy doing. Even if it’s just walking around the neighborhood while listening to your favorite music, do it. Exercise naturally increases the feel-good hormone, serotonin, which can help keep depression at bay.
- Manage your stress. This is way easier said than done, but it is vital. You’ve probably been told the basics many times – get enough sleep, meditate, yoga, etc. But there are other ways, as well.
Personally, I can’t seem to ever get my mind to turn off by itself, so meditation only works for me if it’s “guided.” It may sound corny, but recordings of guided meditation, autogenics, or body scan are FANTASTIC ways of calming the mind and body, and all you have to do is follow the directions on the recording. I use the body scan recording to help me fall asleep when I can’t seem to shut off my mind or worries. Try them out and give them a few chances. The more often you really try to follow the instructions, the better you’ll get at fully relaxing and getting that relief each time. Find a quiet, comfortable place, and do one of the following to help you relax and de-stress anytime.
- Body Scan
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Because about half of women who suffer from prenatal depression go on to have postpartum depression, it’s important to get it under control as soon as possible to prevent it from extending into the postpartum period. A good way to do this is, again, to build a solid defense.
With your partner, plan and prepare for what’s to come after baby arrives – cooking, cleaning, childcare, feedings, etc. Line up meals in advance, recruit family members, friends, and neighbors to help you with cleaning and taking care of the house, have a plan B if breastfeeding or other plans don’t pan out, stock up on treats and forms of entertainment for those tough recovery days, and plan outings or home-visits with friends and loved ones to ensure you don’t isolate yourself.
Another good idea is to get a “safety” contact lined up – someone you can call if your partner isn’t around who can come give you a break or help if you need it. A neighbor or someone in close proximity or with similar schedules as you would be best. Make sure they understand your situation and risk factors well, are trustworthy, and are willing to help at the last minute if necessary.
Do you or someone you know suffer from prenatal depression? Please reach out to someone you trust for help immediately.
If you have any information to add to this article or comments or experiences that would be helpful to our readers, please comment below!
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