What is Prenatal Depression?
Let’s put aside the obvious wondrous sentiment associated with pregnancy for a moment. Instead, let’s focus on something that, until recently, was considered quite taboo and unheard of during these nine months: depression.
Depression during pregnancy is not a rare phenomenon. Considering the massive hormonal changes women go through during these nine months, we can expect some bouts of frustration, sadness, and other symptoms to develop.
But, let’s not dismiss the obvious relevant factors that affect women who already experience depressive symptoms because of other factors:
- Lack of personal and social support
- Domestic violence and abuse
- Unwanted pregnancies
- History of mental illness
- High levels of stress
- Past pregnancy loss
- Past pregnancy complications
- Difficult life events
There’s so much that causes an influx of anxiety. And part of the problem is that many women are expected to enjoy these nine months, which prevents them from seeking help and treatment.
How to Diagnose Depression During Pregnancy?
Let’s not forget, depressive symptoms are not similar for everyone. There are several levels of depression. While some women will experience these symptoms in full force, for others, the following symptoms will come on slowly:
- Lack of concentration
- Overall lack of energy
- Feeling of indifference
- Feeling tearful
- Feeling irritable and agitated
- Feeling worthless
- Thoughts of self-harm and suicide
- Lack of self-esteem
- Lack of sleep
- Fits of anger
These symptoms can persist even after the baby is born. That leads to postpartum depression, which can evolve into postpartum psychosis if the patient is not treated.
Keep in mind that with prenatal depression, it’s not only the mother who goes through a terrible time maintaining her mental—and physical—health.
The unborn child, unfortunately, bears the brunt of this situation as well. The mother’s decreased physical and mental health means that the baby does not receive the proper care or nourishment needed to grow. In some cases, that can lead to a miscarriage, a child being born before reaching full-term, or being less healthy than they should be.
Depression during pregnancy affects the mother and baby in more ways than one. If the mother doesn’t get the proper treatment, being under that cloud of depression prevents her from forming any attachment with the child. It messes up the inane connection that every child should have with their parent.
A mother with antenatal and postpartum depression might not respond well to her child crying or needing milk. She may not be able to cuddle, change diapers, or even bathe the baby properly. And because she may not find that energy within herself, the baby will not feel any sense of security or safety.
As a result, because there’s no deep emotional attachment, the baby may not even be able to understand or develop a secure attachment.
In many ways, a mother’s depression and distance from her child show up in the child’s behavior. The child may experience various problems such as:
- Delayed development
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble interacting with their mother
- Increased instances of colic
- Delayed skill development
- Delay in reaching milestones
Considering the effects on the child’s emotional growth, we can also expect this to have life-long consequences for children. According to a study in Yale Medicine, parental depression affects parental bonding and nurturing. As such, the child performs poorly as they grow up and may develop even more issues regarding their behavior, health, and academic development.
What Are the Treatment Options?
Whether you think you’re experiencing depression or know of a pregnant mother with depression, acknowledge these feelings and seek proper help.
Treatment and support are readily available for those with depression. All it takes is the first step. Remember, seeking help from a medical professional is the best thing you can do. No one will judge you for your depression, nor will anyone accuse you of having these feelings.
Depression is a mental health condition, and it requires healthcare. If you find it difficult to talk about your depression, write your feelings down and find someone to give them to. Talk to your doctor or midwife about your mental health, and don’t be shy about seeking help.
Your doctor will most likely prescribe a combination of treatments, including self-help, therapy, and medication. Depending on what your condition is, your doctor will make the final decision. But, if you feel you need more, you can still consult with your healthcare professional.
In the meantime, be strict with what the doctor has recommended. Talk about your feelings with someone you trust, be vigilant about your medicine intake, and indulge in positive experiences to improve your mood. Your depression will not disappear within a day. But taking steps now will prevent your condition from getting worse.
Coping With Depression
Even with therapy and medication, there will be some bad days. At that time, you must put yourself and your baby first. Here are some things you can do:
- Exercise or go out for a walk in the fresh air. If not, sit by the window and have a cup of something special.
- Talk to people you trust and focus on the positives that will come.
- Be self-aware enough to know where your feelings of embarrassment, shame, and guilt are coming from.
- Eat well and stay away from junk food.
- Avoid smoking, alcohol, and caffeine.
- Make plans for pampering the baby once they’re here.
- Make plans for some self-pampering and create a babysitting schedule so you can get some time to yourself too.
It helps to give your body and mind the respite you need.
Depression during pregnancy is unfortunately common. But it doesn’t have to take over your positive experience of bringing a life into this world. Be brave and do your part in overcoming your condition. You’ll want to approach the rest of your life as a woman and mother with a positive mindset.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine (Hormones in pregnancy)
- U.S. National Library of Medicine (Identifying the women at risk of antenatal anxiety and depression: A systematic review)
- U.S. National Library of Medicine (Depression in pregnant women and mothers: How children are affected)
- University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (Not every woman loves being pregnant, and that’s OK)