Depression during pregnancy is not uncommon. In fact, it is estimated that between 14 and 23 percent of pregnant women experience some symptoms of depression.
Expecting a baby is supposed to be the happiest time in your life. If this is the case, then why do you feel so doggone blue?
Depression is an illness, so it goes a lot deeper than the typical mood swings women experience during pregnancy. Hormone changes in pregnancy can affect chemicals in the brain and cause anxiety and depression.
A lot of expecting mothers who experience depression symptoms may not get the help they need because they’re either not aware that they’re suffering from this condition or they are too embarrassed to talk to anyone about it.
Symptoms of Depression
You may be suffering with depression if you have some of the following symptoms for two weeks or more:
- persistent sadness
- feelings of worthlessness
- loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy
- sleeping all the time
- not sleeping enough
- feelings of guilt
- difficulty concentrating
- recurring thoughts of suicide or death
- changes in eating habits
These symptoms can be triggered during pregnancy if you’re going through stressful life events such as with relationships, money troubles or pregnancy complications.
A family history of depression or a history of abuse can also trigger symptoms during pregnancy.
Dangers of Untreated Depression
The reality is that depression left untreated is not good for you or your baby.
Depression may lead to malnutrition, smoking, drinking and suicidal thoughts or behaviors. All of these things can put your baby at risk for developmental problems and low birth weight.
Treatments for Depression During Pregnancy
Infants are demanding; they require a lot of time, energy and patience on your part.
If you have depression during pregnancy, there is no way you will have the energy or the desire to get up everyday and give your baby what he needs. Simple things like feeding, bathing and diapering your baby will feel impossible.
If you have symptoms of depression, don’t be afraid to talk to your obstetrician and tell her how you’re feeling.
She may refer you to a mental health professional so you can get the help you need. Your mental health professional will work with your obstetrician to come up with a safe treatment plan for your depression.
Depending on the severity of your condition, your doctor may recommend psychotherapy, support groups, light therapy and even medication (in severe cases).
Anything you put into your body will cross the placenta and get into your unborn baby’s system, so the safety of taking depression medications while pregnant is questionable. It is believed that depression medications are linked to heart problems, birth defects and low birth weight in babies.
If your health care provider feels like your depression is severe enough to warrant medication, she will prescribe the one that poses the least amount of risk to your fetus.
In addition to any medical treatments your doctor recommends, she may also suggest you make changes to your lifestyle to help manage your depression during pregnancy.
Adding regular exercise to your life is a healthy way to manage depression symptoms because it helps:
- trigger the release of endorphin’s and neurotransmitters in the brain to lift your mood
- reduce immune system chemicals that can worsen depression
- increase your body temperature for a calming effect
- energize you so that it fights fatigue and feelings of sluggishness
- distract you from your problems and gives you an outlet for negative energy
- boost your confidence and makes you feel better about who you are
- give you a chance to socialize with others so you don’t feel so isolated and alone
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends 30 minutes of moderate exercise for pregnant women on most days of the week to keep depression symptoms at bay.
Dietary changes can also help improve depression symptoms by improving your mental clarity and your ability to handle stress.
To help you feel better, eliminate foods that contain caffeine, sugar and processed carbohydrates from your diet.
Instead, fill your diet with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, lean meats, poultry, beans, legumes, nuts and fish.
Studies show that taking a daily omega-3 supplement while pregnant can help ease symptoms of depression.
Before you take these supplements during pregnancy, talk it over with your healthcare provider so she can help you determine the right dosage amount. If you plan to take omega-3, choose a brand that’s mercury-free.
There are a number of herbal vitamins and supplements on the market such as St. John’s Wort, magnesium and 5-HTP that can affect your mood. Although herbal products can be found over the counter, never take them without the approval of your doctor.
Even natural products can be dangerous if they are used improperly. Many herbal supplements cannot be used in conjunction with antidepressant medications.
Depression is a debilitating mental illness that can wreak havoc on your life and put your baby at risk for being born with developmental problems.
Don’t try to deal with depression during pregnancy alone. Your baby is depending on you to get the help you need to improve your mental health so you can care for him properly.
And remember, millions of expecting moms have gone through depression during pregnancy. It’s a very normal experience, and you will get through this and feel happy again soon.
So don’t beat yourself up over this. Follow the advice of this article and your doctor and you’ll be just fine.