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Depression during pregnancy, also called antepartum depression, is a mood disorder in which strong feelings of sadness persist for a long time and interfere with daily life. Mood disorders are biological illnesses involving changes in brain chemistry.
During pregnancy, hormone levels change and can affect the chemicals in your brain, which are directly related to depression. Depression causes you to feel strong negative feelings, such as sadness, hopelessness, and lack of interest, that interfere with daily life and last for prolonged periods of time – for weeks or even months. Even if you were diagnosed with depression prior to becoming pregnant, and had your symptoms under control, the hormonal shifts that come with pregnancy could trigger a relapse.
Often, depression is not properly diagnosed during pregnancy, because it is believed to just be a hormonal imbalance. While it can be triggered by hormonal changes during pregnancy, depression is an illness that can be treated and managed. If left untreated, depressing can pose potential risks to both the mother and child. Untreated depression can lead to poor nutrition, drinking, smoking, and suicidal behavior, which can then cause complications with the child, like premature birth, low birth weight, and developmental problems. Babies who are born to depressed mothers may be less active, more agitated and show less attention than babies born to moms who are not depressed.
It is important to seek help and speak with your doctor if you experience signs or symptoms of depression during your pregnancy.
Between 14 and 23 percent of women will struggle with symptoms of depression during their pregnancy. About 1 in 4 women have depression at some point in their lifetime. About 1 in 7 women are treated for depression within the year before pregnancy and the year after pregnancy.
However, these numbers could be even higher, as many people who struggle with depression are reluctant to admit it or reach out for help.
Some symptoms of depression, like fatigue or trouble sleeping, can be normal during pregnancy. However, if they are accompanied by negative feelings that inhibit you from being able to function in daily life, you may have depression. You may have depression if you have experienced any of the following symptoms for two weeks or more:
Some women who experience antepartum depression have a history of major depression prior to pregnancy. However, many women have their first experience of depression while they're pregnant. Antepartum depression is thought to be caused by a combination of hormonal changes and psychological disturbances associated with pregnancy. Physical changes, such as changes in body and changes in sleep and eating habits, while normal aspects of pregnancy, can also contribute to the development of antepartum depression. Risk factors for antepartum depression include:
If you think you are struggling with antepartum depression, the first and most important step you can take is seeking help. Speak with your doctor about your symptoms and issues. He or she will be able to recommend treatment that would be best suited to you and your child. Treatment methods for depression during pregnancy may include:
Making changes at home may also help you manage your depression symptoms. Speak with your partner, family, or friends about your issues and ask for support. Allow yourself to relax, slow down, cut down on chores and tasks, and put your health and well-being first. Taking care of yourself is vital to taking care of your unborn baby. Some other changes that may help manage depression symptoms include:
If you have any symptoms of depression, call your doctor to set up an appointment to discuss your issues and treatment options. If you find yourself having frequent or obsessive thoughts about harming yourself or your unborn baby, contact your doctor or emergency services immediately.
It's important to call your doctor as soon as possible if your depression symptoms exhibit any of these features:
If your depression is severe or worsens over time, it is critical to seek help from a mental health specialist. Seeking help is the best step you can take to ensure that you and your child stay safe and healthy.