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Depression can hit you like a ton of bricks, but no mom-to-be expects to get the blues when she’s pregnant. It’s hard to muster up the courage to admit you’re not too keen on this whole pregnancy thing, and you’re not sure why you’re not over-the-moon excited about your bun in the oven.
Is it normal to feel depressed when you’re pregnant? Is there any way to shed the blues?
Is it Normal to Feel Depression during Pregnancy?
Most women are fearful to admit that they’re depressed when they’re pregnant. That’s partly because they don’t want others to assume they don’t want the child. They may also question themselves, and whether or not they’re ready to start a family.
But while we like to portray pregnancy as a time of happiness and joy (and it is), not all women feel this way. At least one in ten women will suffer from depression while they’re pregnant.
While not as common as, say, morning sickness, feeling depressed is a relatively common thing when you’re pregnant.
What Causes Depression When You’re Pregnant?
For decades, doctors mistakenly believed that pregnancy hormones actually protected the mom-to-be from depression. The belief was that depression really only set in after the child was born, known as postpartum depression.
But now, doctors believe the rapid hormonal changes associated with pregnancy can actually disrupt your brain chemistry and cause you to feel depressed.
Making matters worse, these same hormonal changes can also make pregnant women feel more anxious than usual. That’s often the reason why so many women go through bouts of moodiness.
It’s now common practice for doctors to screen for depression during prenatal visits, but if you’re feeling blue, you should let your healthcare practitioner know right away.
Your mental and emotional health is just as important as your physical health.
Can Depression Affect the Baby?
Moms who are feeling a bit low are naturally worried that their depression may affect the baby. This is one of those instances where it can actually impact your baby, as depression and anxiety has been linked to higher preterm labor risks.
If left untreated, depression can make it difficult for you to give yourself the proper care you need to have a healthy pregnancy. You may find it hard to eat and sleep properly, and you may not have the motivation to follow your doctor’s recommendations.
For some moms, depression makes it more difficult to resist the temptation of escaping through cigarette smoking, alcohol or even illegal drugs.
Who’s at Risk for Depression or Anxiety during Pregnancy?
Depression and anxiety often go hand-in-hand, and there are some women who are more vulnerable to these conditions than others. Common risk factors for depression and anxiety include:
- Difficult relationships: Strained relationships can make you more vulnerable to depression. If you’re in a troubled relationship, consider seeking counselling. Things will not get better once the baby is born. A newborn only makes a relationship more difficult.
- Family or personal history of depression: If your family has a history or you have a personal history of depression, you are at greater risk of developing it again during pregnancy.
- Lost pregnancies: If you’ve ever miscarried or lost a baby, you may be at greater risk for depression simply because you’re worried about your new baby’s safety.
- Fertility treatments: If you’ve had difficulty getting pregnant, you’re likely already under a lot of stress. If you’ve undergone numerous fertility treatments, you may be dealing with emotional issues and anxiety that you may lose the baby. All of these factors will make you more vulnerable to depression.
- Stress: Work, finances, and life in general can be stressful. Whether you’re in the middle of a career change or contemplating whether you’re going to stay home after giving birth, stress will make you more susceptible to depression.
Symptoms of Depression
Depression isn’t always obvious. It’s not like a cold; you don’t wake up one day feeling stuffy and tired. Many women don’t even realize that they’ve fallen into depression until it’s pointed out to them by family members or their doctors.
However, for some women, the symptoms come on quickly, and they can be quite severe.
Some of the most common symptoms of depression include:
- Feeling sad, empty, or blue for most of the day
- Irritability, agitation, or excessive crying
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping, or extreme fatigue
- Strong desire to eat, or no desire to eat at all
- Feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or worthlessness
If you’ve felt any of these symptoms for a period of two weeks or longer, see your doctor right away. Talk to your doctor or midwife immediately if you’re having thoughts of harming yourself, or you can’t handle your daily responsibilities. Your doctor can refer you to a psychologist who can provide you with appropriate treatment. Remember, therapy is not a sign of weakness, but rather, a sign of strength that you had the courage to make an important and positive change in your life.
6 Ways to Prevent Depression When You’re Pregnant
While there’s no surefire way to prevent depression when you’re pregnant, you can take steps to lower your risks. Remember, depression and anxiety are both biochemical in nature, so they’re not always easy to control.
1. Talk about Your Troubles
Holding onto feelings of anger, sadness, remorse or fear can lead to depression, or make your depression worse. Talk about your feeling and worries with your partner, a friend, family member or another trusted confidant. Airing out those feelings will lift that burden and make you feel ten times lighter.
2. Take it Easy
You’re not a superhero – you can’t do it all. No one can. You don’t need to get all of the housework done this afternoon. You don’t have to get the nursery set up right this instant. You don’t need to work overtime to prepare for maternity leave.
But you do need some “you” time. That means resting, taking a walk, going out and having fun – doing things that make you happy.
Do something that makes you feel good every day. Taking care of yourself is essential when you’re pregnant.
3. Spend More Time with Your Partner
Do whatever you can to strengthen your relationship with your partner before the baby comes. Take a vacation. Go out for a night on the town. Turn off the TV and talk. Strengthening that connection with your partner will give you something to rely on after the baby is born and when you hit those rough patches (i.e. morning sickness, aches and pains) during your pregnancy.
4. Take Up Meditation or Yoga
Prenatal yoga and daily meditation can help keep stress and anxiety at bay. Allowing all of your thoughts to just disappear for just 5 minutes a day can help lift your spirits and keep those anxious feelings at bay.
Schedule in these relaxation times, and make sure that you find a quiet space in your home to just relax and unwind.
5. Establish a Healthy Routine
Sometimes, establishing a routine is more than enough to ward off depression. Make sure that you’re eating properly and getting enough sleep. Choose healthy food over processed junk food, and while you’re at it, make sure that you’re exercising at least a few times per week.
Exercise releases those feel-good endorphins that create a natural “high”.
6. Create a Support Network
Having a solid support network is crucial if you’re trying to stay positive and happy during your pregnancy. No pregnancy is ever easy, and being able to rely on friends and family can make a world of difference. And once the baby arrives, you will already have a solid group of people you can rely on when the going gets tough.
Depression is something that no mom-to-be wants to experience, but know that it’s not uncommon for pregnant women to get the blues. Don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of depression. Counselling is an effective way to treat and even prevent depression and anxiety when you’re pregnant – and after your pregnancy as well