According to some experts, the percentage of expectant mothers who develop pregnancy depression is around 13%. That is roughly the same number of mothers who develop symptoms of moderate postpartum mood disorders after giving birth including postpartum depression.
Are there ways to know ahead of time if a woman is more at risk for developing pregnancy depression? With all of the changes happening during pregnancy, how will you know if you are experiencing pregnancy depression? What should you do if you are diagnosed with prenatal depression?
Risk Factors For Pregnancy Depression
While all women have some degree of stress and life adjustments, there are three things that may put expectant mothers more at greatest risk for prenatal depression. These risk factors for pregnancy depression include:
• Lack of social support (from friends, significant other, family)
• Life stress
• Partner abuse during pregnancy
Other risk factors that can make it more likely for women to become depressed during pregnancy include:
• History of depression
• Unplanned pregnancy
• Lower education level
• Lower income level
• Being single
If a woman experiences pregnancy depression, she is also more likely to develop symptoms of postpartum depression. It is important to talk to a mental health professional if a mother identifies that she has several risk factors for prenatal depression.
Symptoms Of Pregnancy Depression
There are certain “red flags” to look for if you suspect you may be feeling a little more down than what is normal during pregnancy. Symptoms of pregnancy depression to look out for include:
• Restlessness or moodiness
• Sadness, hopelessness or feeling overwhelmed
• Crying a lot
• Feeling a lack of energy or motivation
• Eating too much or too little
• Sleeping too much or too little
• Difficulty focusing
• Difficulty with memory
• Feeling guilty
• Feeling worthless
• Not enjoying things previously enjoyed
• Withdrawing from family and friends
• Having headaches, stomachaches or other pains
During pregnancy, if a woman notices any of the above symptoms for longer than 2 weeks, it is recommended to contact the primary medical provider to rule out other health related problems.
What To Do If You Have Pregnancy Depression
Treatment for pregnancy depression often depends on the severity of symptoms and guidance from a medical care provider or mental health professional. If a woman is already taking antidepressants during pregnancy due to a history of depression, it is usually recommended for her to continue taking medication. However, taking antidepressants during pregnancy has its own set of risks including increasing the baby’s risk of preterm birth and trips to the NICU. For that reason, it is important to discuss all of available treatment options to know what is best for each mother.
Diet, Sleep And Exercise Adjustments Can Help
While not necessarily a “cure” for pregnancy depression, mothers who are experiencing symptoms of depression while they are pregnant, should take a look at what they are eating. Are meals and snacks packed with foods rich in vitamins, proteins and other nutrients? Is regular exercise a part of your daily routine? Some research shows that omega-3 fish oils can help postpartum depression, so you might talk to your care provider about adding this supplement to your diet. Getting regular nights of sleep and napping during times of fatigue will be important during pregnancy.
Counseling/Psychotherapy As A Treatment Option
A popular treatment for all types of depression is on-to-one therapy or counseling. While there is not specific research on the effect of counseling on prenatal depression, counseling has been shown to reduce symptoms of postpartum depression. Therefore, it is often a recommended treatment option for pregnancy depression.
Since a lack of support is frequent risk factor for depression during pregnancy, it makes good sense that offering support from other mothers who have experienced prenatal depression in the past or are currently struggling can be a help. Referrals to support groups can be obtained from a care provider.
Research shows that acupuncture is both safe and reliable as a treatment for depression during pregnancy. Herbs such as St. John’s Wort have also been suggested as a way to treat pregnancy depression, however it is always a good idea to consult with a medical care provider or mental health professional for specifics on dosages and safety of herbs during pregnancy. Pregnancy depression does happen. However, with early diagnosis, support from friends, family and mental health professionals, there is help!