Depressed About Being Pregnant
Most people think of pregnancy as a happy, joyous time. However, expecting a baby can bring a wide range of emotions, from joy to apprehension and even sadness. This is totally normal, especially when you consider all of the hormones pumping through your veins.
But what about when the feelings of doom and gloom persist? If you’re depressed about being pregnant, your low mood may be linked to a serious condition--prenatal depression.
In this article:
- What is Prenatal Depression?
- Causes of Prenatal Depression
- My Personal Journey
- Prenatal Depression Symptoms
- Prenatal Depression Treatment
- Preventing Prenatal Depression
What is Prenatal Depression?
Although depression can be dangerous if ignored, it is highly treatable and not something about which you should be embarrassed. 1 out of 7 pregnant women deals with this same issue while expecting. So if you are feeling depressed about being pregnant, know that you (we) are not alone.
According to the Mayo Clinic, depression is a mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest while interfering with everyday life. Depression is more than the ‘blues,’ and it isn’t a sign of being emotionally weak.
Several different types of depression can happen before, during, and after pregnancy.
Antenatal (also known) as Prenatal Depression is a mood disorder that presents after conception and can persist until birth.
Postpartum Depression is more commonly known and usually occurs after the baby is born.
Perinatal Depression is a term that covers the whole period from week one of pregnancy until the baby is one year old. In essence, it is the first two types combined. A woman can have prenatal depression, postpartum depression, or both.
We will discuss the symptoms of pregnancy-related depression in greater detail a little later. For now, let’s take a look at the causes.
Causes of Prenatal Depression
There is no one cause (or cure) for prenatal depression. Researchers believe that a combination of the following can cause pregnancy-related depression:
- Changing brain chemicals/hormones
- A genetic link that makes you more susceptible to depression
Outside factors such as lack of family support, relationship problems, limited funds, or not feeling ready for motherhood can add to feelings of depression during pregnancy as well.
Studies also show that the risk of prenatal depression can increase with every subsequent pregnancy. This means that you are much more likely to experience depressed mood with baby number four than baby number three. It also tends to get worse with each pregnancy.
You are at higher risk for developing prenatal depression if:
- You already struggle with depression, another mental issue, or have a family history of depression/mental health problems
- Your pregnancy was unplanned or is unwanted
- You are having issues with your partner or are a victim of sexual assault, domestic violence
- You have diabetes or another medical condition that makes pregnancy more difficult
- You are exposed to chronic stress either at home or at work
My Personal Journey
Although every woman experiences this disorder differently, for me personally, many of the points above were true. I had a family history of depression, and things weren’t ‘perfect’ in my world when my youngest daughter arrived.
I was a young mother, so I did not notice depression symptoms during my first or second pregnancy, although I definitely had undiagnosed postpartum depression.
With baby number three, depression symptoms showed up around week seven and progressed as my hormones rose. I tried to be brave and suffered through until she was born. Baby number four brought symptoms of depression that were too serious to ignore.
I thought that my feelings were simply caused by my circumstances. With a husband overseas, a stressful teaching career, and other children to care for, I felt incredibly isolated and alone--but who wouldn’t?
When I finally built up the courage to speak to my doctor about how I was feeling, I was both surprised and relieved to receive a perinatal depression diagnosis. This was the first step toward healing.
Prenatal Depression Symptoms
Are you wondering if your feelings are really depression-related or just part of the process of becoming a new mom? Which of the following symptoms do you (or others) notice in yourself?
Changes in your body:
- Eating or sleeping differently (too much or too little)
- Having no energy, even after a good night’s sleep
- Stomach or headaches that have no other cause
- Decreased pain tolerance (everything seems to hurt more)
- Increased anxiety that expresses physically
- Vision problems or difficulty concentrating
Changes in the way you feel:
- Persistent sadness or moodiness
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Withdrawing from friends or family
- Having trouble attaching to your baby
- Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
Changes in daily life:
- Struggling with self-care (i.e., showering, getting dressed)
- Losing interest in things that you used to love to do
- Having trouble getting to or being efficient at work/school
- Procrastinating or not being able to get anything done
Prenatal Depression Treatment
It usually takes a team of providers to treat prenatal depression. The first place to start is your general provider if you are very early on in your pregnancy and do not have an obstetrician just yet. If you have already selected an OBGYN, discuss your feelings with him or her. You can jot down the symptoms you are experiencing from the list above and take them with you to your next appointment.
Mainline treatment options include:
- Medication (antidepressants)
- Group or individual therapy
- Online support groups
Natural depression remedies are another great option:
There is a lot of debate about whether or not medication is a safe choice during pregnancy. For me, personally, medicine was a last resort. When natural remedies and therapy alone didn’t work, a low-dose antidepressant was my only option. Your doctor will know what’s best for you personally and should be the first contact point for making such a serious decision.
Preventing Prenatal Depression
There is no surefire way to prevent any condition, much less prenatal depression. However, there are things you can do.
One, get help right away if you are experiencing any symptoms. This is not something you should go through alone. For any pregnancies that follow:
- Consider taking supplements ahead of time such as omega-3 or SAM-E
- Seek Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) or Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) before you get pregnant
These therapy options have proven useful for keeping depression symptoms at bay once you become pregnant.
Never try to face depression alone. Even if you are afraid or embarrassed about what you are feeling, your baby needs you to seek help. Remember baby number four that I mentioned earlier in the article? She’s now four years old and the light of my life. My pregnancy with her was far from a fairytale, but I am so glad that I found the strength to deal with perinatal pregnancy. You can too!
March Of Dimes, Depression during pregnancy, March 2019.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, What Is Depression?, April 2018.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Depression and Postpartum Depression: Resource Overview, 2017.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Depression, June 2012.
National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, A Meta-Analysis of Depression During Pregnancy and the Risk of Preterm Birth, Low Birth Weight and Intrauterine Growth Restriction, January 2011.
National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, Perinatal depression: implications for child mental health, December 2010.
- Mary Dean