Anxiety and Depression During Pregnancy: Symptoms and Treatments

Bringing a new life in the world is supposed to be joyful, isn’t it…but sometimes, you just don’t feel it. It’s not often discussed, but a lot of pregnant women struggle to feel positive emotions in this way. If you’ve been feeling low like this for a long time, you could be suffering from prenatal depression. Let’s shed some light on depression during pregnancy, how to identify it, and how to you can seek help. We’ll also look at some steps you can take to support and maintain good mental health.

Symptoms of depression during pregnancy

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The hormonal changes of pregnancy can leave you feeling so horrible, it can be hard to tell if you’re suffering from depression – particularly if you’ve never experienced an episode of depression before. Sometimes, pregnancy itself can mimic the symptoms of depression, making it harder for women to be diagnosed. But depression is different from just a bad mood, or the unpleasant symptoms that can go along with pregnancy. Symptoms of depression may include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Feeling very sad for extended periods
  • Feeling worthless
  • Sleeping too much, not enough, or waking up too early in the morning
  • Speaking more slowly than before
  • Loss of interest in things you normally enjoy
  • Avoiding contact with your friends and family
  • Loss of appetite

If any of these sound like you, and you’ve been feeling this way for two weeks or more, you may be suffering from depression.

Symptoms of anxiety during pregnancy

Alongside depression, anxiety is another common mental health issue for pregnant moms. A little anxiety during pregnancy is normal – pretty much every mom has had some experience worrying about what pregnancy and life as a mother will be like.

But just as depression isn’t the same thing as feeling a bit down, anxiety is also different from feeling a bit stressed or worried. Pretty much everyone experiences some anxiety about pregnancy and the upcoming birth, but living with too much anxiety isn’t healthy. Depression and anxiety can often occur together, too. Some symptoms of anxiety disorders can include:

  • Anxiety that interrupts your thoughts or daily tasks
  • Panic attacks (suddenly feeling extremely afraid)
  • Persistent feelings of worry or fear about the pregnancy
  • Having trouble getting to sleep or sleeping badly at night

If any of these sound like your experiences, you could be dealing with an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety and antenatal depression risk factors

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Mental health is complicated. There is no simple cause for anxiety or depression during pregnancy, and everyone’s experience is different. For example, some women might experience anxiety and depression for the first time during pregnancy, whereas other moms might have already had depression in the past, or even have been depressed at the time they conceived.

Genetics appear to play a role, and women with a family history of depression and anxiety appear more likely to experience depression themselves. Stressful situations and life events (like bereavement, relationship breakdown, or caring for a sick family member) can also be a trigger for depression and anxiety.

That said, we also know that there’s a strong connection between hormones and brain chemistry. Your hormones are working hard during pregnancy, supporting the baby’s development and getting your body ready to give birth. This can be overwhelming, and if your brain chemistry is sensitive to it, the hormone changes may trigger episode of depression or anxiety. Sudden hormone changes are also thought to be the culprit behind post-partum depression, when some women become very depressed after giving birth.

Anxiety and prenatal depression treatments

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Treatment for mental illness is essential during pregnancy, just as it with any other illness. If you think you may be experiencing anxiety or prenatal depression, talk to your primary care practitioner. They should be able to refer you to a specialist, like a psychiatrist or psychotherapist, for a diagnosis.

Anxiety and depression are usually diagnosed based on a consultation with you about your symptoms. You can bring your partner or family members into a session with you if you’d feel more comfortable, but the most important thing is that you can speak honestly about your feelings. Don’t hold back anything – this will help your healthcare team get you the most effective help.

Mild to moderate depression often respond well to drug-free therapies, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This can teach you new strategies for coping with and overcoming negative thinking and emotions. More severe anxiety or depression may require medication to help you get back on track.

Although it’s generally advised for women to avoid taking drugs during pregnancy, sometimes the benefits outweigh the risks. Some (but not all) common medications for anxiety and depression are generally thought to be an option for pregnant moms. Your healthcare provider will be able to help you make a judgment based on your own individual circumstances.

Preventing anxiety and depression during pregnancy

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If you’re at risk for anxiety and depression during pregnancy, there are steps you can take that could help you feel better.

Use your support network

It might be hard for your partner, family, or friends to understand exactly what you’re going through during pregnancy, but talking honestly can help you communicate your needs. They might be able to help being there for you and comforting you when you feel down, taking you out for a lunch-date to pick up your spirits, or doing practical things like cooking and chores.

Connect with other moms

Particularly if you’re a first-time mom, pregnancy can be an overwhelming time. Joining a support group or mother’s club could give you a good opportunity to speak to other moms who are going through similar experiences, or have already “been there, done that”, as it were. If there aren’t any in your area, online communities and social media could be another good way to connect.

Stay active

As long as the pregnancy is healthy and uncomplicated, moderate amount of exercise is recommended for women at every stage of pregnancy. On top of that, it’s known to be a powerful mood booster. Pregnancy-friendly like maternity yoga and swimming could be a great place to start.

Practice good self-care

This includes the basic things – making sure that you eat a nutritious diet for yourself and your baby, and getting enough sleep. However, it also means making time for yourself. Even if it seems a bit “fluffy”, it’s important to that you treat yourself kindly – especially since you’re also caring for your developing baby. This could mean doing something nice for yourself like taking a bubble bath, or chilling out with your favorite TV show could help bring your mood up a bit. Remember, you deserve to feel good!

Don’t suffer anxiety and prenatal depression alone

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Your baby’s counting on you to get the help you need, so don’t hesitate to see your doctor for anxiety and prenatal depression. There’s no such thing as a “perfect pregnancy,” and you’re not bad or broken or doing anything wrong if you’re one of the women who experience anxiety or depression during pregnancy. Help is available, and with the right treatment, you can recover and be back to your old self before you know it.