Depression in Pregnancy: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment
Depression in pregnancy can not only zap joy out of a special time, it can pose serious risks to both mother and baby. Approximately one in seven women, almost 15 percent, live with significant depression during pregnancy. While antepartum depression can be dangerous, there are treatments available to help. Read on to know the signs and symptoms of as well as treatments for depression in pregnancy.
Being depressed during pregnancy doesn’t mean that a woman is unhappy that she’s having a baby. Often, someone is glad to be pregnant and wants to welcome a baby into her life, but certain biological, psychological, and situational factors can trigger depression:
- Extensive hormonal fluctuations
- Personal or family history of depression in pregnancy
- Effects of infertility treatments
- Pregnancy complications
- Previous miscarriage
- Excessive stress
- Past or present trauma
Whether or not you have these depression triggers, you might worry that you have more than the blues. Fortunately, there signs and symptoms to help spot depression in pregnancy.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression During Pregnancy
While it can occur any time during pregnancy, some research suggests that depression often strikes during the first and third trimesters (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2019). You might consider talking to your doctor if you notice symptoms involving your body (other than pregnancy-related changes), mood, and life:
Physical symptoms and signs can involve:
- An inability to eat the number of calories recommended for a healthy pregnancy (you might eat too few or too many)
- Persistent digestive troubles
- Excessive anxiety about how your body feels or looks
Mood-related depression symptoms and signs include:
- Prolonged sadness that lasts most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks
- Frequent crying
- A sense of guilt and/or worthlessness with themes of inadequacy regarding motherhood and family life
- Thoughts of harming yourself, including suicide (If you are having thoughts of harming yourself, please call or chat online with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline right away (1-800-273-8255)
Some signs that depression is interfering in your life:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling too drained to be active, including preparing for your baby’s arrival
- Disinterest in your baby
- Withdrawing and isolating
- An inability to feel reassured or comforted
These symptoms can be frightening, especially given that they put both the woman and her baby at risk for serious consequences.
Risks of Depression During Pregnancy
Depression during pregnancy can negatively impact the health and wellbeing of the mother and developing infant. A pregnant woman suffering from depression might not be able to properly engage in the level of self-care needed during this important time. This can lead to poor nutrition and inadequate weight gain. Depression during pregnancy also increases the risk of post-partum depression, which can interfere in a mother’s ability to bond with and care for her newborn, including providing the routine medical care her baby needs.
A developing baby can be harmed by maternal depression (American Pregancy Association, n.d.; Harvard Health Publishing, 2017); March of Dimes, 2019). Babies whose mothers are depressed are at risk of premature birth and low birth weight, both harmful to infant health. These babies are frequently more irritable and less active or responsive than babies whose mothers didn’t have untreated depression during pregnancy. Other risks to the baby include developmental delays and learning- or behavior problems later in life.
Fortunately, depression in pregnancy is treatable. You and your baby don’t have to suffer, and negative consequences aren’t inevitable.
Treatment for Depression During Pregnancy
When the health risks to you and/or your baby outweigh the risks of medication, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants to help you. Some medications carry risks such as gestational diabetes for the mother or, for the baby after birth, birth defects, respiratory distress, withdrawal symptoms, fussiness, and trouble breastfeeding. Others, though, are much safer to take during pregnancy. Some selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Celexa (citalopram), Zoloft (sertraline), and Prozac (fluoxetine) are among the safer options, as are some selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) like Cymbalta (duloxetine) and Effexor XR (venlafaxine).
Working with a therapist can help you sort out your thoughts and feelings. You’ll gain helpful tools to use to beat your symptoms and regain the life you want. Individual, group, couples, and family therapy have been shown to make a positive difference.
Still other safe and helpful treatments:
- Eating nutritious foods and avoiding food that is processed, refined, sugary, fatty, and salty
- Exercising daily (always check with your doctor for pregnancy-friendly options)
- Getting adequate sleep
- Using a lightbox
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
Depression during pregnancy is challenging and can be risky for mother and child. Knowing what signs and symptoms to watch for can help you seek treatment early and enjoy a mentally and physically healthy pregnancy.
Peterson, T. (2020, May 4). Depression in Pregnancy: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, April 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/depression/women/depression-in-pregnancy-signs-symptoms-and-treatment