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Prenatal Depression

You're not alone.

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Updated June 02, 2014

Pregnant woman on bed holding her belly
Sebastian Pfuetze/The Image Bank/Getty Images

We often hear talk of postpartum depression or the baby blues, which occurs shortly after the birth of a baby. Though we rarely discuss depression that occurs during pregnancy or prenatal depression. There are estimates that as many as 70% of women will experience symptoms of depression during pregnancy, making it a wide spread concern. However, these depressive symptoms are often more minor than a full flown diagnostic depression which is typically only seen in about 10-15 of pregnant women.

While hormones are often blamed for many of the mood swings and other emotional and psychological happenings in pregnancy they are only one part of the picture when it comes to pregnancy and depression. Sometimes the stress of pregnancy brings on depressive symptoms, even when the pregnancy was planned. These feeling might intensify if the pregnancy is complicated or unplanned or if life itself is stressful.

Other known stress causing factors are sometimes brought on simply because of the changes that pregnancy potentially brings like moving to a new house or apartment to increase space or to have a more baby-friendly environment. Sometimes this might mean career changes for one or both parents. These things typically cause stress and potentially depression and are frequent occurrences in pregnancy.

The real problem with depression in pregnancy can have a negative impact on good prenatal care, particularly in the areas of nutrition, sleep habits, exercise and following care instructions from the doctor or midwife. Substance abuse, including alcohol and cigarette smoking, also tends to be higher in pregnant women who report depression. There are also the factors that we commonly think of as risks for prenatal depression such as a higher risk of suicide.

Women report that the most troubling problem for them is often the feeling of disassociation with the baby.

"I simply feel detached," reports one depressed mom-to-be. "We planned this pregnancy, and I'm so confused, I expected to be happy. But it's this awful cycle of depression. I feel depressed because I'm depressed."

Many of the signs of depression mimic pregnancy symptoms. It can be hard to determine what is normal fatigue in pregnancy and what is depression. This can lead to an under-reporting of the problem. There is also a tendency of people to ignore depression in pregnancy simply because this is supposed to be a happy time in life, this includes the pregnant woman herself.

Signs of Depression

  • Problems concentrating
  • Problems with sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Feeling anxious
  • Irritability
  • Feeling blue

Treatment during pregnancy involves several avenues. Developing your support network is extremely valuable. Having yourself surrounded by supportive individuals that you know can be beneficial, particularly if they have experienced the same feelings. Talking to a professional or psychotherapy can be very beneficial, particularly since there are major changes going on during pregnancy. Medications can also be used during pregnancy under the care of a practitioner who has experience with using antidepressants and other medications during the course of pregnancy and breastfeeding.

The key to preventing problems that stem from depression in pregnancy, which may also increase the likelihood of postpartum depression, is getting the support and help you need as soon as you realize that you are experiencing a problem. With more than two out of three pregnant women having depressive symptoms it's important to recognize that you are not alone, and that help is available. Talk to your doctor or midwife if you are in need of help or reach out to other organizations.

1/27/14

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