What is Prenatal Depression and How is it Treated?

3.9 min read|774 words|Categories: Mental Health|
Maternity Portrait in front of window in UK.

What is prenatal depression?

Prenatal depression is defined as depression – a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest – experienced by the mother during pregnancy. Prenatal depression can also lead to heightened worry, anxiety and sadness throughout the pregnancy. When left untreated, prenatal depression can have serious and potentially fatal side effects.

What are the symptoms of prenatal depression?

Prenatal depression symptoms can vary depending on the person, but the most commonly reported symptoms include sleep changes, decreased libio and energy levels, loss of interest on hobbies or other enjoyable activities, poor adherence to natal care and thoughts of suicide. It is noted that some symptoms of depression, like sleep changes, are also common side effects of pregnancy, which can lead to prenatal depression going undetected. Secondary effects of prenatal depression can include the baby not receiving necessary nutrients to thrive if the mother is not able to regularly eat balanced meals, exercise if needed or otherwise maintain her health.

Is depression common among pregnant women?

There are now three known types of depression that one can experience before or after pregnancy, prenatal depression – while the mother is pregnant, postpartum depression – after the baby has been born, and perinatal depression – a combination of the two. It is estimated that worldwide, roughly 10% of pregnant women experience prenatal depression and 13% of new mothers experience postpartum depression; this means that 10% of pregnant women experience prenatal depression. When we imagine 10 women that we work with, or 10 women in our family, the fact that one out of those 10 have the potential for prenatal depression makes the statistic much more sobering. The risk for developing prenatal depression is also exponentially increased for pregnant women experiencing financial or food insecurity, health complications and familial instability. Although prenatal depression is nearly as common as postpartum depression, it is discussed much less in the public discourse on pregnancy.

What effect does prenatal depression have on mothers – and their families?

The time before a baby is born is meant to be a period where families form closer bonds in anticipation of their new addition. It is also a stressful time that brings about great change (and expense). If the expectant mother is experiencing prenatal depression, she may feel less excited and hopeful about her new baby. This can also lead to a disconnect between the parents-to-be, if they are not able to openly or equally share their feelings about their baby. Mothers with prenatal depression often feel intense guilt and shame in addition to their existing symptoms, which can cause the depression to compound.

How can a soon-to-be-mother cope with prenatal depression?

A mental health practitioner, OB/GYN or related medical professional would be the first step in seeking treatment for prenatal depression. There are several therapy modalities and medication options that are considered safe for pregnant women, especially because the benefits they bring outweigh any potential harm to mom or baby. Some mothers have also found success with lifestyle changes that incorporate mindfulness and self-care – including support groups, exercise, meditation, journaling and open communication with loved ones. Confiding in a partner or loved one can also help come to terms with the feelings that come along with prenatal depression, and may help give others insight on how to be there for mom. It is important to find a treatment or coping mechanism that works for the mom, and it is perfectly fine for her to decide that one method isn’t working for her. 

How can we raise awareness about prenatal depression?

Talking about prenatal depression is the best way to raise awareness among mothers, the medical community and our broader society. Pregnancy and motherhood can be an isolating experience, and mothers are often made to feel like they should be happy and grateful at all times because of their cute, perfect little baby. Depression, on its own, is also heavily stigmatized in some parts of the world and treatment is not always widely accessible. Because of this, parents can be afraid or hesitant to discuss feelings of depression during pregnancy or after childbirth. Due to a worldwide prevalence of prenatal depression, it is imperative that we facilitate open and honest conversations about its severity. A soon-to-be mother knowing that her own mom, friend or neighbor has experienced prenatal depression may be enough for them to know that they are not alone.

Pyramid Online Counseling is trained to treat prenatal depression in women of all ages, from all backgrounds. If you or your loved one might be suffering from prenatal depression, reach out to us today at (833) 525-3077 to learn more.

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