Although pregnancy is a very joyful time for most women, the experience may be marred for some by frequent and unrelenting bouts of anxiety, sadness, restlessness, and a profound sense of worthlessness. This emotional state is quite common in pregnant women, but is unfortunately barely recognized as a valid condition.
Approximately twenty percent of all women will suffer from depression during pregnancy. The number may be much higher, but several cases of depression during pregnancy go undiagnosed because women tend to not pay heed to their emotions, preferring to classify their depression as nothing more than moodiness.
Why Does Depression During Pregnancy Occur?
Research has shown that the level of pregnancy hormone production during pregnancy is high enough to disrupt the normal chemical processes in the brain. This is the main cause of depression during pregnancy.
The effects of the chemical changes are exacerbated by the strain of being pregnant. You may be suffering from aches and pains, insomnia, perhaps you are regularly constipated or are facing other difficult symptoms of pregnancy which you are personally finding hard to deal with. Many women also have a low self-image when they are pregnant due to their burgeoning weight. They feel unattractive and worthless, thus contributing greatly to their depression during pregnancy.
Even just the thought of being a mother can make some women depressed. What if you can’t handle the baby? What will happen to your marriage? Will you and your partner have time for each other? What if the baby turns out to be more than your relationship can handle? What if you are a bad mother? How much will your life change? Will you ever lose all this weight? What if you make mistakes with bringing up the baby? All these doubts can greatly hamper your state of mind and make you feel very down in the dumps most of the time. The elevated level of hormones makes the situation seem much worse than it is. It’s a vicious seemingly-unending cycle.
Depression during pregnancy is characterized by the following emotions and physical effects:
- Mood swings
- Loss of interest in activities that you once enjoyed
- Crying spells
- Feeling useless
- Believing that life is hopeless
- Thoughts of suicide
- Digestion problems
- Insomnia or over-sleeping
- Significant change in appetite
- Feeling guilty for nothing
- Lack of focus
- Isolating yourself from interaction
Although these are all also normal symptoms of pregnancy, you should consider it a sign of depression if any of the above is markedly significant for you to sit up and take notice.
Risks of Depression During Pregnancy
You may think that depression during pregnancy just affects you and does not harm your baby in any way. In fact, this is the reason most women will not get help if they are depressed. However, you have to remember that your mind and body are not disconnected. You are a holistic organism and everything about you and your life affects your body and mind. So when you are depressed during pregnancy, it will have an adverse impact on your body, which in turn will harm your baby. Following are a few of the main risks of depression during pregnancy.
Babies born prematurely still have a chance of surviving thanks to the latest health and baby-care innovations, but that does not mean your premature baby will be healthy and happy all life-long. Scientists and researchers who studied premature babies discovered that it was linked to neurological disorders, hearing loss, cerebral palsy, blindness, respiratory conditions, and developmental delays. The womb is the ideal environment for your baby to grown and develop fully before it makes its appearance in the world. The less time it has outside the womb during the nine months of pregnancy, the lower its all-round development.
Low Birth Weight
Depression during pregnancy has been known to result in babies with a low birth weight. This can have a huge impact on the long-term health and well-being of your baby. The risks involved in babies with low birth weight are the same as those with premature babies.
Studies have shown that women who suffer from depression during pregnancy are more likely to develop postpartum depression as well. Postpartum depression can cause mother-child bonding to be delayed, it can also prevent normal development of language skills in your baby.
Remedies for Depression During Pregnancy
Tackling depression during pregnancy is no different than tackling it at any other time of your life. It is best not to depend on pills or medication of any kind as this too can alter chemical processes in the brain and there is not enough research done on the long-term effects of the same. And the research that has already been conducted is neither exhaustive nor encouraging. Battling depression during pregnancy has more to do with changing your thought patterns by making changes to your life. Here are a few things you can do to help you overcome depression during pregnancy.
- Sometimes, simply maintaining a healthy lifestyle can greatly alleviate depression during pregnancy. Eating a balanced diet will supply your body and brain with the nutrients they need to stabilize hormonal production and chemical processes. So it might help your depression during pregnancy if you cut down on the extra large bag of potato chips and picked up an apple or a handful of grapes instead. Speak to your doctor or a nutritionist to work out diet plan that suits your taste buds and your way of life.
- Regular exercise has long been known to help people through depression. Most women do not exercise even when they are not pregnant, and when they are pregnant they tend to take it very easy. This level of physical lethargy can affect your mental functioning. Get out of that chair and take a walk. Get a stationary bicycle if you are too shy too go out in your present state. If you are bold enough, take up swimming as an effective exercise to help you battle depression during pregnancy. Remember to consult with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
- Reduce your work load. Women tend to always do too much. Too many chores, too many assignments at the office, always trying to fix this and remedy that. Stop! You need to not let everyone else’s problems become your own. Your first priority is you and your baby. And if you are stressed to the max, you are not doing yourself or your baby any favors. So take responsibility for yourself. Delegate work at the office if possible. Do the same at home. Tell your folks you need time to yourself and that you cannot be bothered with every little thing as it stresses you out and exacerbates your depression during pregnancy. This is not harsh or selfish. It is merely you taking care of yourself.
- Yoga and meditation have also been effective against depression during pregnancy. If you don’t think you are the meditating kind, at least give yoga a try. This gentle form of exercise is sure to help you release mental and physical stress. Yoga can also help with those little aches and pains that are a normal part of any pregnancy.
- Sometimes, depression during pregnancy can get so bad that you need professional help. There is no shame in admitting that you need to see somebody about your depression during pregnancy. It’s a tough time and there is a lot to deal with and we could all use a little help from time to time. Counseling sessions with a trained psychologist may help you understand why you feel the way you do and begin the healing process. Therapy is a non-invasive effective way of handling depression during pregnancy.
- Depression during pregnancy can cause you to isolate yourself from family, friends and social situations. You tend to use your pregnancy as an excuse not to participate or be present. This kind of self-compartmentalization just makes depression during pregnancy even tougher to handle because there is no distraction for your mind so your thoughts keep running in the same rut every single day. You don’t need to throw a party or mingle till you drop. But it will help if you keep in touch with warm, supportive members of your family and friend circle, and plan activities with them that you enjoy doing.
- Anti-depressants should be a last resort in battling depression during pregnancy. If possible, avoid them altogether until absolutely necessary.
- If your partner, wife, daughter, sister, best friend is suffering from depression during pregnancy, then you can play a major role in bringing about the changes that can help her alleviate the sadness and stress. The simplest thing you can do is show your love and support. Tell her you love her and that she looks beautiful. Tell her it will all be OK and she will make a wonderful mother. Bring her flowers and chocolates. Offer to massage her feet or back is she complains of pain. Surprise her by cooking some of her favorite dishes. Think of all the little things you can do to make this difficult time easier for her. Sometimes, pregnant women want nothing more than to talk about their fears and just let out all the tide of emotions. You can help by letting her know that she can talk to you about anything at any time of the day and night. And that if she needs a shoulder to cry on, she can depend on you.