Depression in pregnancy is surprisingly common so if you're feeling blue you're not alone - we share advice on the signs and symptoms of antenatal depression.
Pregnancy is meant to be a happy time full of excitement and hope, however for many women this isn't the case. Research has shown that as many as one in ten women experience antenatal depression at some point during their pregnancy and until recently there has been very little awareness or support for sufferers of this often debilitating condition.
What are the symptoms of antenatal depression?
Mood swings are part and parcel of pregnancy and it's not unusual to feel emotionally overwhelmed at things that wouldn't usually upset you, however antenatal depression goes beyond this to continually and severely affect your ability to deal with life.
As with regular depression symptoms vary widely from woman to woman however typical symptoms of antenatal depression include:
Who is at risk of depression in pregnancy?
- Feeling low all the time
- Problems sleeping (either sleeping too much or too little)
- A marked change in appetite (either eating too much or too little)
- Feelings of isolation or loneliness
- Constant sadness and crying
- Loss of enjoyment and interest in anything
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
- Severe feelings of anxiety or guilt
- Agoraphobia - fear of open spaces/ difficulty leaving the house
- OCD tendencies such as obsessive hand washing
There is no one factor that will determine whether or a not a women will develop depression in pregnancy however research has shown that you're more likely to experience antenatal depression if:
What causes antenatal depression?
- You or a member of your close family have a history of depression
- You have experienced problems with your pregnancy such as severe morning sickness, back ache, spd or bleeding
- You experience a stressful major life event such as moving home, changing job or losing someone close to you
- You are on a low income or are struggling financially
- You have suffered abuse either as a child or as an adult
- You had trouble conceiving, complications with a previous pregnancy or experienced a miscarriage
Until recently it was thought that during pregnancy women were almost immune from depression both mentally (overwhelming joy at being an expectant mother was thought to cancel out the risk of developing depression) and physically (pregnancy hormones were thought to be protective against depression). However, contrary to these beliefs new research has found that women are potentially more susceptible to depression while they are pregnant than at any other time in their lives.
The root cause of antenatal depression is thought to be centred on a pregnancy related hormone imbalance however it's this combined with any number of life stressors that are likely to be responsible for determining the development of depression in pregnancy.
Although the stereotypical image of pregnancy is of a serene, happy, glowing mum-to-be, in reality it is actually a very stressful time not least as it is a very major life changing event. Many women experience anxiety over the health of their developing baby, feel overwhelmed at how their body is changing without their control, are tired from working hard yet concerned about what will happen to their career after maternity leave, worried whether they'll be able to juggle motherhood with work and even anxious about whether they will still be able to relate to their friends once they become a mother. All in all there are a lot of things going on and these feelings can lead to depression especially if friends, a partner or family are unsupportive.
Does antenatal depression mean post natal depression?
If you experience antenatal depression it doesn't necessarily follow that you will develop post natal depression, in fact research shows that many women recover completely as soon as their baby arrives. Additionally, if you experience depression during one pregnancy, you won't necessarily go on to develop it in your next.
Where to get help
If you think that you may be experiencing antenatal depression its important that you seek help from your healthcare provider and talk about how you're feeling. For those with severe antenatal depression counselling or therapy may be recommended and while in the UK there is a certain stigma attached to seeking help in this way, it can actually be an incredibly effective way of coping and relieving depression. In more extreme cases anti-depressants suitable for use in pregnancy may be suggested.
Outside of any medical help your doctor may recommend it is important that you have your own support network as talking through how you are feeling will help. Whether you confide in your partner, your friends, your family or find support on a forum (better still combine all four!), talking will help you to work through any anxieties you have and help your loved ones better understand what you're going through.
Exercise is also really important in warding off depression and taking part in gentle cardiovascular activities such as walking or swimming, or toning based exercises such as yoga or pilates several times a week will help you to relax, feel better about yourself and cope with any stressors you're exposed to during your pregnancy.
Whether you have experienced antenatal depression in a previous pregnancy and have advice that could help others, have some questions or fancy a chat, why not visit the AskBaby forums and meet other parents and parents to be.