Prenatal Depression: Warning Signs and When to Seek Help

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You’ve likely heard a good deal about postpartum depression from your care providers and possibly friends or family members with children. But prenatal depression, also known as antepartum depression, is a topic that is rarely discussed. Statistics suggests that some 14-23 percent of women will experience some depression during the course of their pregnancy varying in degree from mild to severe. 

Unfortunately, not all of these women will seek help however. One reason prenatal depression is often overlooked is because we can be quick to blame hormonal imbalances for the way we are feeling when pregnant. While it is true that fluctuations in the body’s hormones can affect the way we are feeling, if depressed mood or other concerning symptoms become severe or persistent, it is important to seek help.

Signs of Antepartum Depression:

Seek support from your health care provider if any of the following symptoms persist for more than two weeks or begin to affect your daily functioning:

  • Pervasive sadness or depressed mood
  • Noticeable changes in appetite (this can also be common during a normal pregnancy)
  • Loss of interest in activities you typically enjoy
  • Anxiety
  • Persistent feelings of guilt, worthlessness or hopelessness
  • Thoughts of self-harm, death or suicide
  • Excessive sleep or insomnia
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Feeling withdrawn or irritable around others
  • Feelings of restlessness and agitation
  • Loss of self-confidence

Triggers and Risk Factor:

You may be more likely to struggle with depression during pregnancy if you have experienced any of the following life events:

  • Complications during pregnancy
  • Episodes of abuse or trauma
  • A family or personal history with depression
  • Infertility struggles
  • Previous pregnancy losses
  • Relationship problems
  • Death of a close friend or family member
  • Financial stressors
  • Unplanned pregnancy
  • Chronic illness

Support and Treatment:

If you are struggling with prenatal depression, the good news is that there are plenty of options for treatment and ways to get the support that you need. Start by contacting your care provider as soon as you have any concerns about the way you are feeling. Your OB or midwife may suggest that you see a mental health care provider that can be a part of your prenatal team in order to best support you during your pregnancy. Treatment for depression during pregnancy may involve a number of therapeutic and natural options such as:

  • Support groups
  • Personal psychotherapy
  • Medication: Although many medications are not compatible with pregnancy as they do cross the placental barrier, there are some antidepressants that are considered to be safe when the benefit to the mother and baby outweighs the risk. If your depression is moderate to severe and is not responsive to other forms of treatment and approaches, your healthcare provider may suggest trying a low dose of an antidepressant medication. Be sure to educate yourself about all the risks and benefits associated with the medication before starting it and share any concerns you have with your care provider. Your doctor should be able to help you choose a medication that offers the most benefit to you and the smallest risk to your baby.
  • Light therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Omega 3 fatty acids: A daily fish oil supplement may decrease symptoms of depression. Be sure to choose a supplement that is free of mercury which is not safe during pregnancy.
  • A healthy diet: Taking measures such as limiting the intake of sugar, processed carbohydrates, caffeine and artificial additives has been show to positively impact mental and physical health.
  • Vitamins, herbs and flower remedies: Discuss this option with your doctor, midwife or nutritionist to ensure that you choose safe options for pregnancy. Some vitamins, herbs and flowers have been shown to be beneficial for mood and serotonin levels.
  • Exercise: A regular exercise routine helps naturally increase your serotonin levels and reduce your cortisol levels which will improve the way you feel.
  • Rest: Not getting adequate sleep, particularly when you are pregnant, can negatively impact your mood. Try to establish a regular sleep routine to ensure you are getting the rest you need. If prenatal depression is left untreated, there are a number of serious risks to both mother and baby. 

Depression can lead to problems such as drinking, smoking, poor nutrition and self-harm. In addition to the danger these factors pose to the mother, substance use and poor nutrition during pregnancy can lead to prematurity, low birth weight and serious developmental problems for your baby. Furthermore, babies who are born to mothers suffering from depression may be more likely to be less attentive, less active and more agitated than babies born to non-depressed mothers. 

Reaching out for help is the most important step to take if you are concerned that you may be experiencing prenatal depression. Often women report feeling guilty or distraught that they are having these feelings during a time when they are expected to be happy and joyful. Do not let this deter you from asking for the help you need. If you are not comfortable reaching out to your care provider, speak to your partner or a trusted friend that can help you seek the support you need. At Health Foundations, we want to ensure that you are physically and mentally supported throughout your pregnancy. Contact us with any questions about prenatal depression or for a free consultation with a midwife and tour of our Birth Center. The wellbeing of you and your baby are our first priority.