Increasing Awareness of Antenatal Depression
Finding out that you are pregnant and sharing this news with your friends and family is a happy time for many women and while it’s natural to feel other emotions during pregnancy, you may not be prepared for feelings of sadness. Swings in mood are not uncommon in early pregnancy as it takes time for your body to adapt to changing hormone levels. However, if you find that feeling low and tearful predominate and last for more than a fortnight, this could be a sign that you have depression. This may come as a surprise, as for all you hear a lot about postnatal depression, depressed mood during pregnancy is not discussed so widely, even though it affects between 10 and 15% of pregnant women.
Recognising depressed mood
Although you may feel guilty about your sadness, as it’s expected that pregnancy is one of the happiest times in our lives as we await our new arrival, it’s important that you recognise how you feel, as this will allow you to receive prompt treatment for antenatal depression. Besides feeling low in mood, a range of other symptoms are typical of depression during pregnancy:
- Negative thoughts dominate your day.
- You may lose your confidence and feel helpless.
- Having a child is a life-changing event so it’s natural to have worries about what this means for you and how you will cope, but when these worries become constant and interfere with other things, it’s a sign of anxiety, which may accompany depressed mood.
- Although it is usual to feel tired during the first and third trimester, with antenatal depression this tiredness is usually more marked and is often made worse by the fact that you may struggle to sleep well.
- You may find it difficult to concentrate on everyday tasks, but may also lose interest in these, as well as the things that you usually enjoy doing; nothing seems to lift your spirits anymore.
- The smallest of things may now irritate you.
- You may find that your appetite changes and you either constantly want to eat or you don’t want to eat at all.
Seeking help for low mood
If you can relate to these symptoms, it’s important that you discuss how you feel with your midwife or GP. Although healthcare staff are encouraged to discuss a woman’s emotions when she is pregnant, if they don’t bring up the subject, it’s essential that you do, as antenatal depression carries a number of risks to your health and that of your unborn baby. For instance, as you are less inclined to take good care of yourself, you may not eat well or you may develop unhealthy habits; this not only affects your own health, but also increases the risk of an early delivery or a low birth weight. You’re also more likely to have postnatal depression if depression during pregnancy is not managed and this makes it more difficult for you to provide the care that your newborn needs. Your doctor will assess your mood and decide on the most appropriate treatment for you. Talking therapies are usually the first line of treatment offered, but antidepressants are an option when you have severe low mood while expecting.
Positive steps you can take
However, besides the medical treatments on offer, there are a number of steps you can take yourself to help you cope with antenatal depression. For example, eating a healthy diet and taking gentle exercise are natural ways to lift your mood. Talking with those close to you about the way you feel is a useful outlet, as bottling up your feelings tends to have an adverse affect on your mood. Equally, if you suffer from extreme tiredness, don’t be reluctant to ask your partner, family or friends for help around the house or to help you care for your other children. Pregnancy is also an important time to extend your social circle, so try to meet other women locally who are expecting a baby or who already have young children; antenatal classes and other groups for pregnant women, such as yoga and aquanatal classes, are a good way to do this. Not only is social interaction beneficial for your mental well-being now, but meeting up with other mums when you have your baby will reduce your risk of postnatal depression.
written by Emma Dexter – Mum of 2. Emma is a freelance writer who works from home writing about a whole host of subjects. She is particularly passionate about family matters being a mum to a 3 year old and an 8 month old.