You’ve probably heard all about the postpartum “baby blues” and postpartum depression, but you may not have heard about a surprisingly common condition called prenatal depression.
Pregnancy particularly if it’s planned or longed-for, is meant to be a time of great joy. However, it’s now during the pregnancy than after. A study in the British Medical Journal showed that almost three in 20 women suffered depressive disorders during pregnancy, with the worse time being around 32 weeks. Happily, in the great majority of cases, the depression seems to lift as soon as the baby is born, and it doesn’t appear that those women who suffer prenatal depression will suffer postpartum depression, too.
Low mood and depression are different things. Pregnancy is a traumatic time – your hormones fluctuate wildly, your organs are squashed, and, generally, your whole body, physically and mentally, is put under strain. With all this to deal with, it’s no wonder that a woman experiences massive dips in mood at times during her pregnancy – but is this depression?
The answer is no. mood swings, even short periods of sadness, are different from depression, which is characterized by a chronic, ongoing dark mood. The signs of prenatal depression are as follows. You may be unable to sleep, or you may want to sleep all the time; you may be excessively irritable, angry, and sensitive; you’ll probably be prone to bouts of crying; and you may withdraw from your friend and family. You may even have thoughts of harming yourself or the baby; you almost certainly will stop taking care of yourself. The most important thing is to recognize these symptoms and to get help – you have a very real illness, and there is no shame in asking someone (even if, at first, that person is simply a close friend) to guide you.
Some factors appear to predispose women to prenatal depression – although being able to say categorically who’ll get this illness and who’ll not is impossible. If you think any of the following apply to you, you may be at risk. Watch out for the symptoms and talk to someone as soon as you can if you think depression is setting in – but don’t become paranoid.
Heredity Many forms of depression have a heredity factor – that is, you’re more likely to suffer from some form of depression if a parent, grandparent, or even aunt or uncle suffered from a form of it; and you’re more likely to suffer from prenatal depression if you have suffered another form of depression in the past.
Additional anxiety and stress Pregnancy, as joyful as it should be, can also be a time of great physical and mental stress. If you also have other stresses in your life – a difficult or new job, a bereavement, a separation or other relationship problems – life can simply become too much and depression can set in. the stress of abusive relationships, past or present, is also a trigger. When so much about your own body is out of your control, having been emotionally, physically, sexually, or verbally abused can make becoming a parent a traumatic rather than a joyful experience.
Pregnancy itself Being pregnant for the first time is a catalogue of “unknowns”. All sorts of changes take place in your body that have never happened before, and the weight of the responsibility for nurturing your unborn baby and then caring for a new life can be overwhelming. Equally, many second-time mothers can become depressed – how will she is loved just as much as before? And how will the second ever measure up to the first? The less pleasant aspects of pregnancy – severe morning sickness, for example – are also triggers for prenatal depression. Finally, if you’ve had frequent miscarriages in the past, or if you’ve lost a child, being pregnant now can bring on all-consuming anxiety that leads to depression.
This all sounds very gloomy, but remember that for the majority of women pregnancy is a happy time – but often only with support from others.
Be open with your doctor and talk through your feelings. It’s unlikely any doctor will prescribe you with antidepressants, which are not recommended for use during pregnancy. The only exception may be if the doctor believes you’re suicidal.
Counseling is the most important help anyone can offer you – and if your doctor doesn’t suggest it, find a counselor yourself.