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Motherhood can be a joyful experience for most mothers, but for some, it can bring its own set of mental health issues. Most people are aware of what postpartum depression is, and just how much of an impact it can have on a new mother, her child and the entire family unit. What most people tend to overlook is antepartum depression or depression during pregnancy. 

Contrary to what you might think, depression during pregnancy is quite a common issue. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, approximately 14-23% women struggle with symptoms of depression during pregnancy. This type of depression is often not diagnosed or treated properly because the symptoms of depression can have similarities with symptoms of pregnancy itself. 

Both depression and pregnancy can affect sleep patterns, energy levels, appetite, sexual desire, etc. Add to this the stigma associated with depression, and many women might be reluctant to talk about having depression during pregnancy. However, it’s important to remember that depression - before, during or after pregnancy - is a treatable mood disorder as long as you accept what is happening and seek professional help.

This is necessary for everyone suffering from depression, but pregnant women and their families need to be extra-cautious because depression during pregnancy can lead to postpartum depression. Moreover, depression during pregnancy can cause a number of complications like premature labour, low birthweight and developmental problems. Read on to find out everything you need to know about depression during pregnancy.

  1. Can depression during pregnancy cause harm to the baby?
  2. Symptoms of depression during pregnancy
  3. Causes of depression during pregnancy
  4. Treatment for depression during pregnancy
  5. Can you take medication for depression during pregnancy?
  6. Natural ways to treat depression during pregnancy

The mother-to-be’s health during pregnancy affects the health of the baby growing in her belly: this is a fact everybody knows, and that’s why there’s increased focus on the right pregnancy diet, exercises during pregnancy and prenatal care of every type. This should also include mental health, because depression during pregnancy can indirectly cause some harm to the baby too.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, depression in pregnant women that is left untreated can lead to poor nutritional intake, stress, lack of rest and even issues like drinking, smoking and suicidal thoughts. All of these can indeed harm the foetus and impair its development, maybe even deform it forever. Premature birth, low birthweight and other developmental problems then become inevitable.

So yes, depression during pregnancy does harm the baby and it definitely harms the mother. Chances of depression during pregnancy continuing after delivery to turn into postpartum depression are also very high.

Pregnancy, while stressful and full of natural mood swings due to hormonal imbalance, can be a source of joy to most women. A pregnant woman suffering from depression is not likely to be experiencing the same feelings due to her condition, which is why diagnosing depression early on is something that needs to be prioritised. The following are some of the most recognisable symptoms of depression during pregnancy:

  • Persistent sadness
  • Feelings of guilt 
  • Fear of being a worthless mother
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of concentration
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Recurring thoughts of death, suicide, etc.

Depression is a mood disorder that can be triggered by a number of things in general. If depression occurs during pregnancy, it’s causes might be more focused. The following are some of the more well-known triggers of depression during pregnancy:

  • Family or personal history of depression
  • Previous miscarriage or recurrent miscarriage
  • Infertility treatments
  • Relationship problems with the spouse
  • History of abuse or trauma
  • Complications in pregnancy
  • Stressful life events

Recognising the signs of depression and consulting a doctor immediately can go a long way in minimising the damage this mental health issue can do. Depending on the severity of your depression and the stage of pregnancy you’re at, your doctor will discuss all the types of treatments available to you.

It’s important to remember here that your healthcare provider knows and wants the best possible outcome for both you and your baby, so follow their advice precisely. The following are some treatment options that might be given to you by your doctor:

  • Private psychotherapy including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • Light therapy
  • Joining a support group
  • Medication

Pregnant women with mild to moderate symptoms of depression might not require medications to treat depression or any mental health issue during pregnancy. But if a pregnant woman is dealing with severe depression, she might be given a combination of psychotherapy and medications.

There is a lot of debate about whether pregnant women should be given antidepressants at all during pregnancy, since all medications cross the placenta and reach the growing foetus. Antidepressant use during pregnancy can lead to complications in the baby, including congenital defects, hypertension, heart problems and low birthweight.

Given the risk of these severe side-effects, you might assume that antidepressants should be avoided at all costs during pregnancy. However, if the doctor considers your condition to be too severe, this type of medication might be recommended if the risks of the present outweigh the future risk to your baby.

Knowing the side-effects of antidepressants, most people tend to wonder if depression during pregnancy can be treated naturally. Support groups, psychotherapy and light therapy are natural ways to treat depression, and are based on conversations, guidance and behavioural aspects. But apart from these, there are some more ways to naturally treat depression during pregnancy.

  • Exercise: Exercising for at least 10 minutes every day can increase your serotonin levels and decrease cortisol levels. These hormonal changes can alleviate depression.
  • Sleep: Getting enough rest and sleep can recharge the body and mind to deal with the stresses of the coming day. Create a routine and healthy sleep schedule.
  • Diet: Cut off caffeine, sugar, processed carbohydrates and foods with artificial additives. Instead, increase your fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidant intake by eating lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds and lean proteins.
  • Herbal remedies: Herbal teas and other remedies might also relieve the symptoms of depression, but do consult your obstetrician before taking these.

References

  1. Paediatr Child Health. 2004 Oct; 9(8): 584–586. PMID: 19680491
  2. O'Keane, Veronica and Marsh, Michael S. Depression during pregnancy. BMJ. 2007 May 12; 334(7601): 1003–1005. PMID: 17494021
  3. Vigod, Simone N. et al. Depression in pregnancy. BMJ 2016; 352
  4. National Health Service [Internet]. UK; Mental health problems and pregnancy
  5. American Pregnancy Association [Internet]. Irving, Texas, USA; Depression in Pregnancy
  6. Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School [Internet]. Harvard University, Cambridge. Massachusetts. USA; Depression during pregnancy and after.
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