What is Prenatal Depression?

There it is in front of you: the two pink lines confirming your pregnancy. The feelings that follow are anything but the elation that’s supposed to accompany the happy news of a new baby. You feel nervous instead of excited. And when others congratulate you, guilt swarms over as you think, ‘what kind of mother will I be if I’m not even excited about my own baby?’ What if you don’t love pregnancy? The good news? If you’re feeling this way yourself, you’re not alone. In fact, studies now show that two in 10 women experience depression and anxiety during their pregnancy. Prenatal depression, also known as antenatal depression, is actually quite common. Contrary to what people thought for years, pregnancy hormones do not protect women against the onset of depression during pregnancy. So, what is prenatal depression? Here’s an overview of what prenatal depression is, symptoms to watch out for and things you can do to beat the baby blues.

What is Prenatal Depression?

Prenatal depression is similar to postpartum depression as both are described as feelings of worry, sadness and anxiety. But prenatal depression carries additional warning signs that go beyond general pregnancy-related concerns. Women who develop depression during their pregnancy tend to experience more severe feelings of sadness, sleep concerns and in some cases, paranoia. If some women had existing depression symptoms while juggling a ton of life stressors, like family dynamics or financial pressure, they may be more prone to carry those with them into pregnancy. The challenge is that it can be difficult to pinpoint depression because pregnancy causes normal changes in emotions, hormones and overall feelings. When those symptoms start interfering with your everyday life or daily functioning, then it may be prenatal depression.

Prenatal Depression Symptoms to Watch For

As with regular depression, there are some symptoms you can watch out for that may be an indication you’re dealing with more than the average case of the Mondays. If you start regularly feeling sadness, emptiness or that something bad could happen to the baby, it may be a sign of prenatal depression. Other symptoms may include:

  • Sleeping too much or struggling to get sleep
  • Increased irritability, agitation or excessive crying
  • Feelings of numbness
  • No longer enjoying the things you used to
  • Always feeling exhausted (more than usual as a result of the pregnancy)
  • Wanting to eat more than usual, or not wanting to eat at all
  • Feelings of excessive or unwarranted guilt

During this time frame, if you have thoughts of self-harm or suicide, you need to see your doctor right away as this is a serious symptom of depression that is worrisome for both you and your unborn baby.


What Are Common Triggers for Prenatal Depression?

One of the most common triggers for prenatal depression is a family history of depression. Other challenges that can cause depression during pregnancy include hormone imbalance (sometimes as a result of fertility treatment), previous miscarriage or a difficult pregnancy that requires a ton of bed rest. If your pregnancy is unplanned, particularly if you’re young, single, lacking an adequate support system or in a dysfunctional relationship, you may be at risk for developing prenatal depression. And given their nature, stressful life events can cause more symptoms of depression in pregnant women too. A big move, losing a job or a death in your family are all significant triggers for prenatal depression.

How Can You Deal with Depression During Pregnancy?

Knowing the possible triggers for prenatal depression is a great first start to treating it. Having the awareness can help you effectively deal with symptoms going forward. It goes without saying that pregnant women must put their physical health first during pregnancy, but they should also do the same with mental health. Take the best possible care of yourself during this time by exercising, eating healthy, getting plenty of sleep and thinking positively. All of those things can help to raise serotonin levels, which is the chemical neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood, appetite, sleep, memory and learning. Exercise in particular is effective at keeping prenatal depression at bay. It also helps improve sleep, reduces aches and pains during pregnancy, strengthens muscles and helps you lose baby weight and get back in shape after your little one is born. If you don’t know where to start, pregnancy workout apps are a great starting point!

It’s completely normal for pregnancy to bring out increased emotions and hormones. But if you’re feeling sad, worried, frightened or overwhelmed during your pregnancy or after the baby is born, seek help. There’s no shame in admitting you need help during an overwhelming time in your life. And remember, you’re never alone and things will get better with the right help and adjustments.

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