Dealing with Depression during Pregnancy
Mental health is just as important as physical health, and just like any other illness can be debilitating and difficult for any sufferer. Depression is a common mood disorder affecting 1 in 10 women. It causes feelings of sadness, detachment, hopelessness and other strong emotions that can affect day-to-day activities.
Depression can occur during pregnancy for a number of reasons, especially if you are prone to the disorder or even have it under control. During pregnancy, the hormonal changes could play a role and lead to a relapse, with many expectant mums suffering in silence.
What are the symptoms of depression during pregnancy?
It’s common to feel tired, nauseous and a little emotional while pregnant. However, depression can exasperate these symptoms and make them feel unbearable or intense.
· Losing interest or pleasure in daily activities and things that you enjoyed before
· Feelings of incredible sadness and hopelessness, sometimes for no reason at all
· Feeling like you are unable to function in your daily life or communicate with others
· Closing yourself off from friends and family
· Feelings lasting five or more weeks
· Anxiety, irritability or agitation
· Low energy or extreme fatigue that doesn’t get better with rest or sleep
· Difficulty concentrating
· Changes in sleeping and eating patterns – overeating or undereating
· Suicidal thoughts
Who is at risk of developing depression?
Depression isn’t a choice and doesn’t discriminate. It is an illness that can affect anyone at any time and might not have a noticeable cause. However, it can usually affect women during their 20s or early 30s, which is around the same time most women plan their pregnancy or become pregnant. Depression can also be caused by a combination of factors including family history and genetics, a past history of depression and anxiety, life stress like financial issues, relationship troubles and a death of a loved one, feelings of isolation and lack of support or domestic violence.
What to do to eliminate depressive thoughts during pregnancy?
First, it’s best to talk to your doctor about depressive thoughts to get the appropriate treatment. You might need a referral to a psychiatrist, psychologist or counsellor, depending on the severity of what you’re feeling and going through. Usual treatments that help to reduce or eliminate these feelings include medication, CBT therapy, a change in diet and lifestyle or mindfulness.
Depressive thoughts can be due to the stress of having a baby, what to expect or the pressure of being the ‘perfect’ parent.
However, they may be a sign of an underlying and more serious mental health condition and depressive episode, so proper advice and treatment from a medical professional is advised.
Coping strategies to help depressive thoughts and depression while pregnant
Professional assistance is always recommended in terms of mental health, but simple lifestyle changes can actually make an incredible difference in how you feel and think. Healing takes time and a lot of effort and shouldn’t be rushed, so making small positive choices every day can help ease depressive thoughts and feelings.
Getting some sun every day is an important part of recovery, as vitamin D is known to improve mood and sleep cycles.
You can do this by taking short walks outside every day, even just for 15-20 minutes, eat lunch and drink your coffee in the sunshine or on the terrace, go for a run around the neighbourhood, drive to the beach and take a stroll or simply sit out in your own garden and breathe in the fresh air.
It’s a known fact that talking about what you’re going through can actually help reduce the heavy feeling that depression can have. You can talk to psychologist and begin a number of medication-free therapies including CBT, or chat to someone you love and trust. Lifeline and
Beyond Blue provide an online chat room or phone service if you need to speak to someone urgently.
Even though it can be incredibly hard to stay social when you’re not feeling so great, it’s important to surround yourself with positive people or head out when you can. Relaxed outings like the movies, the theatre or a dinner are nice ways to socialise without pushing the boundaries.
Exercising might not appeal to you when you’re pregnant and feeling like you want to retreat into your own sanctuary, but studies show that exercise can actually be as effective as antidepressants because of the serotonin that is released. Not only does exercise increase energy levels and decrease fatigue but it improves a range of other issues during pregnancy, including digestive issues or weight gain.
The best part about exercise is that you can do it in the comfort of your own home or go for a 30-minute to one hour walk at the beach or around your neighbourhood.
Depression may make you want to sleep for as long as 14 hours a day or more, especially if your depressive thoughts are strong and you feel like you can’t get out of bed or don’t want to cope with the day ahead. Whatever the case, too much sleep can actually make you feel worse, even though you think you’re still tired. Try to regulate your circadian rhythm and sleep cycle by falling asleep and waking up at the same time every day. Aim for around 7-9 hours of sleep every night and avoid television or artificial lights in the bedroom, which actually disrupt the circadian rhythm.
Simple relaxation techniques can go a long way to help reduce intrusive thoughts and stress during pregnancy. Yoga, Pilates, breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness, meditation or even prayer have provided beneficial results that boost feelings of positivity and well-being.
Eating healthy is always important but especially crucial if you’re pregnant and suffering from any mental health disorder. Food cravings might be difficult to control during pregnancy but dietary modifications can help reduce depressive thoughts and anxiety, as foods high in sugar, fat and artificial ingredients can make you feel jittery, foggy and tired. Cut back on salty food and caffeine as they can also increase your heart rate, and include supplements into your diet like vitamin B-6, calcium, magnesium, vitamin E, evening primrose oil and chaste tree berry. These herbal remedies have all been studied and found to assist women suffering from PMDD and depression during pregnancy.
Does depression affect your baby?
It’s unknown whether depression itself can affect your baby or whether medication plays a role, but untreated depression during pregnancy can lead to premature birth or a low birth weight. Risks with antidepressants during pregnancy are quite low and depend on the dose and how long you take it.
Preterm birth or pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in a baby’s lungs) are two harmful side effects of antidepressants. If you’re taking medication during your third trimester, your baby might experience withdrawal symptoms which are usually mild and only last for a short time but include breathing issues, irritability, low blood sugar or trouble feeding.
Antenatal depression is common during pregnancy and can bring about a range of uncomfortable and distressing symptoms including depressive thoughts. The physical, hormonal and emotional changes during pregnancy can be really hard if you suffer from depression, but it’s best to speak to your doctor to find a suitable treatment plan that works for you and your condition. Taking care of yourself is extremely important, as the pressure of being the ‘perfect mother’ can add to the list of your worries, which can increase depressive symptoms. Luckily, there are a range of methods to help ease or eliminate depressive thoughts including therapy, medication and dietary and lifestyle changes.