Pregnancy Depression

Pregnancy depression is different than postpartum depression, which is after the baby is born. This article discusses the causes of depression during pregnancy, tips on recognizing depression during pregnancy, and how to address and treat being depressed while pregnant.

Although people may not expect pregnancy and depression to coincide, a woman who is pregnant may experience depression on account of several different causes. The result is that an estimated 14 to 23% of pregnant women experience depression. This article will discuss various types of depression that can coincide with pregnancy, their interrelationship, and some treatment issues.

Causes of Depression During Pregnancy

Although postpartum depression - a case of depression immediately after the birth of a new baby - has received some amount of coverage, partly because of the openness of Brooke Shields and others who have suffered with it, depression during pregnancy may be less well known. Depression during pregnancy does occur, and can arise from several different causes.

A woman who has a history of either depression or the hormonal mood disorder Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) may be prone to depression during pregnancy. PMDD is like an exacerbated case of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), in which - as a result of hormonal changes related to their menstrual cycle, between 3 and 8% of women experience symptoms of severe depression prior to menstruating.

Age and multiple previous pregnancies also increase the risk for depression during pregnancy. Stressful circumstances surrounding the pregnancy, such as limited support and assistance or conflict with one’s spouse or partner can lead to depression during pregnancy, as they can at any other time of life.  Additionally, feeling ambivalent or negative about being pregnant can also lead to depression.

Recognizing Depression During Pregnancy

Because depression symptoms and pregnancy symptoms have some overlap, identifying depression during pregnancy can pose a challenge. So when a patient experiences symptoms, such as mood swings, a dramatic drop in energy level, reduced appetite, and lessened cognitive abilities, it is especially difficult to discern that depression, not “normal” first trimester pregnancy symptoms are at work. With these symptoms, health providers may rely on the duration of the symptoms as a cue that there is something unusual at work.

Other depression symptoms are not as generally expected during early pregnancy. These include lasting feelings of sadness, feelings of worthlessness, and/or recurring negative thoughts, whether of hopelessness, death, or suicide. Any of these may reasonably put family and friends on alert.

Possible Results of Depression During Pregnancy

A depressed woman is less likely to get the neonatal care she needs from health providers, as well as less likely to attend to nutrition, exercise, and other healthy habits. Pregnant women suffering from depression are more likely to abuse substances, including alcohol, smoke cigarettes, and feel suicidal.

Ways to Address Depression During Pregnancy

When it is discovered that a pregnant woman is suffering from depression, there are some treatment choices to be made in order to take the best possible care of the mother while not injuring the unborn baby. Pharmaceutical intervention, which might be started as a matter of course, were the depressed person not pregnant, may be possible or may be ruled out as too dangerous for the fetus. But it is important to realize that babies born to women who may take anti-depressants during pregnancy are not the only ones at risk; there are also risks for babies born to women with untreated depression. Ongoing testing works to determine the safety of anti-depressants during pregnancy. And - as at any time - psychotherapy without accompanying medication is an alternative approach that may be a good choice.

Women who are taking anti-depressants and are planning to conceive a child should consult their mental health professional and their ob-gyn to understand the full situation. For some women, it will make sense to taper and/or discontinue the medication prior to conception.


Related Article: Postpartum Depression >>