I remember an elder sister of mine who when pregnant had gone through tumultuous mood swings to the extent that she would slip into serious episodes of depression where she would refuse to meet anyone and stay all by herself cooped up in her room for hours. Everyone around, especially her parents and husband were extremely worried. At times she would just skip her meals and sleep for hours, she was not willing to go to the doctor for checkups and often light up a cigarette. The first trimester of her pregnancy was a total mess. She looked extremely sick and started to lose weight until a psychiatric friend of her husband intervened and arranged a couple of sessions with her at home. It was after that a significant change was noticed in her behavior although those momentary bouts of sadness were on and off. She agreed to join an antenatal class where she experienced many happy pregnancy stories and journeys and her desire for a happy pregnancy was evident in a short time. She ate healthy food, went for morning walks, attended psychotherapy counseling sessions and got over her antepartum depression with exercise and nurturing her unborn baby. Thankfully she never had to take anti-depressants since she responded well to psychotherapies supported by the love and care of her family. She had a healthy childbirth and it has been eight years since; she never had another episode of depression, not something I know about.
What is depression during pregnancy?
Pregnancy is an important phase in a woman’s life. Although it is supposed to be a happy phase in a woman’s life, but does not necessarily mean that all women pass pregnancy smiling each moment. Why? They are confused, stressed, afraid and depressed even. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reveal that about 14-23% of women will struggle with some or other depression symptoms during pregnancy. This phase is clinically known as ‘antepartum depression’ and it comes as no surprise since more and more women are going through this phase in the recent times.
It might be emotional stress, stress to cope up with personal or professional life, substance abuse, relationship conflicts or pregnancy complications that might contribute to depression. This is a very delicate subject that needs to be handled well. But pregnancy hormones also lead to emotional stress and minor depression, so how do you differentiate? It is not for the pregnant woman but for the family members to identify the problems and seek medical help.
Anxiety, fatigue, feeling sad without a reason, difficulty in concentrating, unwillingness to eat are some symptoms atypical of pregnancy; but when these symptoms persist for days on end without any significant change in mood or behaviour whatsoever, it can be a matter of concern. When a pregnant woman is suffering from depression, these symptoms are more frequent and she deals with persistant sadness, suicidal thoughts and feelings of worthlessness.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression during pregnancy
The thoughts during an antepartum depression or depression during pregnancy are similar to that of normal depression. These include:
- Feeling worthless, guilty, helpless and hopeless
- Constant feeling of sadness and emptiness
- Complete loss of interest in eating, hobbies or activities that felt ecstatic once
- Feeling irritated, angry, anxious and frustrated
- Sleep disturbances or Insomnia
- Persistent exhaustion and fatigue
- Unable to gain pregnancy weight
- Thoughts of suicide and self-harm
Can depression during pregnancy cause complications?
If the depression during pregnancy is not treated and nipped at the bud, it can cause serious complication to both the baby and the mother. It can lead to premature birth, developmental problems and low birth weight.
It is therefore important that you seek medical help and the family members must be vigilant in taking care of a pregnant mother, her mood swings, eating habits and if her depressive behaviours are interfering with her pregnancy.