What is prepartum depression?
Pregnancy is supposed to be a time of joy and wonder, but, for many women, it can also be a time of great sadness and despair. Postpartum depression is becoming more well-known and better diagnosed, but depression during pregnancy, which affects up to one in five pregnant women, often goes unrecognized. Perhaps this is because many of the clinical symptoms of prepartum depression (such as fatigue, trouble sleeping, changes in appetite, weight gain, etc.) overlap with normal symptoms of pregnancy. If you or someone you know is displaying signs of depression during pregnancy, know that this is normal and that help is near. Read on to learn how to recognize the signs, understand the risk factors and find the support you need to get better.
Recognize the warning signs
It can be difficult to diagnose depression during pregnancy because many of the symptoms are the same as those that occur in a normal pregnancy. But prepartum depression is a serious medical condition that can impact the normal growth and development of your baby if left untreated, so it is important to get help if you feel you may be affected. If you have persistent symptoms of depression from the list below, lasting for more than two weeks, visit your physician for a medical evaluation.
- Feelings of guilt, anxiety or worthlessness
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Impaired concentration
- Changes to eating habits
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Lack of interest in activities that you usually enjoy
- Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
Beware of risks to baby
If you are suffering from depression during pregnancy, don’t wait to get the help you need. When left untreated, babies born to depressed mothers have a higher risk for birth complications and premature birth, lower birth weights, cognitive and language delays and other behavioral problems. “A woman’s childbearing years are also her highest-risk time for depression. Doctors used to think of pregnancy as a ‘honeymoon’ away from depression risk, but this is turning out to be a myth,” says Dr. Sheila Marcus, Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Michigan. "We now know that the hormones and brain chemistry involved in depression are known to be affected by changes in other hormones related to pregnancy. And we know this may affect the fetus."
How to get support
Depression can make you feel very alone, but it is important to remember that help is just a phone call away. Treatment including medication, talk therapy and changes to diet and exercise can make a world of difference.
Here are a few ways you can get the support you need for prepartum depression:
- Seek guidance from a medical professional: Your OB-GYN or midwife is the best place to start if you are suffering from depression during pregnancy.
- Psychotherapy and stress management: Talking to a trained professional on a regular basis has been shown to have positive affects on depression management. Your physician should be able to refer you to a good psychotherapist in your area.
- Find a local support group: Getting support is essential to recovery. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance and National Alliance for Mental Illness are two excellent resources and will help you find support groups specific to your individual needs.
- Antidepressant medications: Collaborative treatment between your mental health and prenatal care provider is best when considering antidepressant treatment options.
- Eat a balanced diet and get regular exercise: Eating a wholesome diet and getting regular exercise can be a big boost to your mental health. Consult with your physician for a good wellness plan.