Most people associate pregnancy and childbirth with happiness and joy – why shouldn’t you celebrate the fact you’re bringing a new life into the world? People talk about the plans they have, their skin glows, and you’re flooded with hormones that prepare you to be a loving and protective mother.
While that’s a pretty picture, it might be too simplistic and idealistic. Pregnancy is a complex time of hormonal and physical changes and other anxieties that mean it isn’t always butterflies and roses. In fact, for many women, it can be a nightmare of depression and isolation, made worse by the fact they feel guilty for their less-than-joyful feelings.
Most people have now heard of postpartum depression (although it too, is often glossed over), but no one ever talks about depression during pregnancy or prenatal depression.
Although it’s often kept hush-hush, as many as 23 percent of women experience depression during pregnancy according to the American Pregnancy Association. Unfortunately, it’s often overlooked and never diagnosed. With so many hormonal changes, people just write off feeling down as something you’ll “get over soon.” To make things worse, many of the symptoms of prenatal depression blend with some symptoms of pregnancy.
Signs of prenatal depression
- Constant anxiety
- Feeling sad and emotionally detached
- Excessive weeping
- Lacking motivation
- Appetite changes
- Having trouble sleeping or oversleeping
- Unable to focus
- Isolation from family and friends
- Low self-confidence and self-worth
- Losing interest in activities you used to like
Who’s at risk for prenatal depression
Anyone can become depressed, but there are certain triggers that may make someone more likely to develop depression during pregnancy:
- Infertility treatments
- Traumatic situations like the death of a loved one or abuse
- Hormonal changes
Pregnancies later in life and depression
Women who get pregnant later in life may especially be at risk of depression. Studies show women who give birth between age 40 and 44 are five times more likely to feel depressed. This may partly be due to the fact it’s more difficult to conceive as you age while the risk for complications increases. They may also have less support from friends. Obviously, these factors have psychological effects and create a lot of anxiety.
Older women struggle with other issues as well, like IVF or other therapies. Studies show women who give birth using assisted therapies are more likely to feel depressed during the third trimester.
Most women also go through menopause in their 40s or 50s. Pregnancy after menopause is difficult, and as you approach menopause you’re met with a host of hormonal changes. Unfortunately, perimenopause, which begins a few years before menopause, is also associated with depression.
How prenatal depression can affect your baby
Depression during pregnancy isn’t just harmful to the mother, it also has implications for the baby.
- Women who are depressed during pregnancy are at risk for postpartum depression as well.
- Depression may prevent a mother from bonding with her newborn.
- Prenatal depression is associated with a low birth weight.
- Studies show depressed women are twice as likely to have preterm births.
- When pregnant women are depressed, later in life their children are more likely to develop mood disorders like depression as well.
Treating prenatal depression
Getting treatment for depression is essential. It’s a real illness and doesn’t just go away on its own. You shouldn’t have to suffer in silence, and you don’t have to. There are many methods to treat depression, many of which are safe during pregnancy. Most doctors choose therapeutic methods, but antidepressants are also an option for more serious conditions, many of which are safe to take during pregnancy. If you feel like you’re not yourself and experience some of the symptoms mentioned above, speak to your doctor about your options.
Staying healthy and positive throughout your pregnancy
Depression is due to many complex factors, which make it difficult to prevent. However, there are ways for you to promote positive mental health throughout your pregnancy and afterward.
- Follow a healthy diet plan
- Exercise regularly
- Make time for yourself to do things you enjoy
Staying connected to your friends and family is also important – many people who feel depressed withdraw, but social groups are very important for support throughout your pregnancy and after you give birth.
Feeling depressed during pregnancy may sound odd, but it is more common than you think, and you’re certainly not alone. There’s no reason to feel guilty for not feel all the happy butterflies you see in the movies. Real life pregnancy, and people, are more complex. The best thing you can do for yourself and your baby if you feel depressed is to get treatment so you can get back to your old self, and make that happy connection with your little one.