Understanding Prenatal Depression and How it is Treated

4.1 min read|826 words|Categories: Mental Health|
Maternity Portrait in front of window in UK.

Many people are familiar with postpartum depression, the condition that affects women after giving birth, resulting in difficulty bonding with the baby and feeling confident as a mother. Fewer people have heard of prenatal depression, though.

In this article, we’ll share everything you need to know about this unique mental health disorder, from signs and symptoms to prenatal depression statistics. 

What is prenatal depression?

Prenatal depression is a condition in which a pregnant woman experiences overwhelming sadness, anger or anxiety. Prenatal depression is similar to major depressive disorder, but giving a more specific diagnosis for pregnant women means treatment can be more exact for the needs of this population.

Prenatal depression (depression before birth) and postpartum depression (depression after birth) are often combined into one term, perinatal depression (depression before and after pregnancy). Often prenatal and perinatal are used interchangeably.

This disorder is commonly found to exist alongside other mental health conditions. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, prenatal depression makes daily tasks more arduous to perform. In extreme cases, the severity of depression could even threaten the health and safety of the mother and baby.

How common is prenatal depression?

The journal Mental Health in Family Medicine estimates that 13 percent of pregnant women experience depression. Sadly, prenatal depression statistics are worse for young mothers, single mothers, those who have pregnancy complications or women who have experienced stress or trauma in the past. Additionally, 51 percent of mothers with lower socioeconomic status experience depression during or after pregnancy.

While it’s not uncommon to experience depression during pregnancy, very few women seek treatment. A study in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry found that only a third of women with diagnosed depression during pregnancy received any mental health treatment.

What are signs of prenatal depression?

One of the best ways to increase the rates of treatment for women with prenatal depression is to equip yourself with the knowledge to be able to recognize warning signs in yourself or another mom. Here’s what to look for.

  • Intense or sudden mood changes
  • Feelings of hopelessness or extreme sadness
  • Feeling guilty or ashamed
  • Crying easily and frequently
  • Negative, spiraling thoughts
  • Experiencing a lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Changes in appetite that are damaging
  • Insomnia
  • Somatic complaints (headaches, migraines, stomachaches)
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Uncontrollable, panicked or worst-case-scenario thoughts
  • Being easily angered
  • Distancing yourself from others
  • Having a hard time bonding with the baby
  • Feeling guilting about not enjoying pregnancy or the baby
  • Frustration that pregnancy or having a baby is different than you expected
  • Having difficulty making decisions
  • Hesitation or refusal to take care of yourself or follow a doctor’s orders
  • Engaging in risky behaviors like drinking or using drugs
  • Having thoughts about suicide

Many of these symptoms overlap with major depressive disorder, but others are unique to the period of pregnancy. If you’ve noticed these signs in yourself, talking it through with your OBGYN, doctor, midwife or another professional can give you the clarity and the support you need.

How do I know when symptoms are considered depression or normal pregnancy changes?

It’s plausible that prenatal depression so often goes untreated because the symptoms are often confused with biological changes that occur during pregnancy. Sleep, eating, mood, energy level, ability to focus and more are all impacted by even an uncomplicated pregnancy.

According to Mayo Clinic, this could also be due to an increased emphasis on women’s physical health during pregnancy, leaving mental health an afterthought.

If you’re unsure whether changes in your emotions and functioning are due to prenatal depression or common pregnancy changes, it’s best to get a second opinion. Besides, there’s no harm in bringing up your mental wellness at a regular check-up. It is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your baby.

How is prenatal depression treated?

Generally, depression is treated with a combination of psychotherapy (talk therapy) and antidepressants or other medication. However, during pregnancy, you’ll want to more carefully weigh the pros and cons of medication during this time as some substances could impact fetal development.

Thankfully, talk therapy is the first line of defense for depression. It’s best practice to use talk therapy for a period to see if it is effective before adding medications, anyway. So start with psychotherapy and if symptoms continue or worsen, reassess with your doctor the best course of action.

This treatment matters

Seeking treatment for prenatal depression may seem unnecessary to some. The truth is that this treatment has a larger impact than most pregnant women realize. Perinatal depression may affect you for more than nine months, potentially affecting you and your family for years if left untreated. 

Take care of your loved ones by investing in your own wellbeing. Pyramid Online Counseling is here to help. With convenient, flexible scheduling you can find healing from prenatal depression without compromising important family time. Get help today.

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