Society often paints an unrealistic picture of expectant mothers. Pregnant women are supposed to be joyful at every moment, happily painting nursery rooms and picking out bassinets.
While many women are very excited about having a new baby, it is unrealistic to assume that the only feelings associated with pregnancy are bliss and excitement. Many women secretly struggle with severe anxiety, depression, doubt, fear, and unhappiness throughout their pregnancy. Due to the self-induced shame caused by prenatal depression, they tend to hide their feelings and suffer in silence. What exactly is prenatal depression and why does it occur? Here is what the experts say.
Prenatal Depression vs. Postpartum Depression
Fortunately, the mental health and healthcare industry has become much more receptive and understanding of postpartum depression. PPD is a form of clinical depression that impacts approximately 10-20% of all new mothers.
Due to hormone fluctuations and the stress of a new lifestyle, most women struggle with the “baby blues” for about 2 weeks after having a baby. This is different than postpartum depression, which is more severe and can last up until a year after birth.
Symptoms of postpartum depression include fatigue, lack of joy, feeling trapped, insomnia, feeling disconnected from the baby, severe mood swings, panic attacks, and high expectations. PPD is a treatable condition and most women overcome it with a combination of counseling, medication, and time.
On the other hand, prenatal depression occurs during pregnancy. Roughly 13% of women struggle with prenatal depression, though the percentage may be quite higher. The symptoms are similar to PPD though not always exactly the same. These include –
Sadness and feeling overwhelmed
Overeating or undereating
Not excited about having the baby
Physical symptoms such as headaches and pain that are unassociated with morning sickness
What Causes Prenatal Depression?
Prenatal depression is caused by a variety of factors that depend on external influences, previous mental health conditions, and whether the baby was planned or not. Women with low support systems or those in a volatile relationship are more susceptible to prenatal depression. However, women in happy relationships that have planned pregnancies can also suffer from prenatal depression.
Prenatal depression is often worsened by fluctuations in hormones, severe morning sickness, and preexisting anxiety and depression. There is not one single factor that causes this condition. Researchers believe it is a mixture of physical, emotional, and environmental factors that turn into a perfect storm.
It’s important to note that prenatal depression does not directly impact the baby in any way. However, if women are eating poorly or missing appointments due to their depression, there may be adverse outcomes for the baby. That is why it is critical to receive help as soon as possible.
While certain medications like benzodiazepines cannot be taken during pregnancy, many physicians have concluded that certain antidepressants are safe to take during pregnancy. While a pregnant woman may be afraid to take a medication for fear of hurting the baby, the vast majority of doctors believe that medications are critical if symptoms are severe and potentially dangerous.
Counseling is the preferable option for many women. Therapy can provide the coping mechanisms necessary to handle anxiety and depression when they arise. Therapy modalities that are most often used include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal psychotherapy (IP).
Women should also make lifestyle changes in conjunction with therapy or medication. These include –
Exercise – Light walking and yoga can be enormously beneficial for improving mental and physical health.
Support Groups – Talking with other like-minded women will remove the feelings of isolation
Proper Eating and Relaxation – Eating correctly and receiving the correct nutrients will improve both mental and physical well-being. Taking warm baths, receiving prenatal massages, and utilizing other self-care techniques are also beneficial.
Open Communication – Hiding or being ashamed of feelings will only make expectant mothers feel worse. Speaking with a therapist, minister, or close friend will help put matters into perspective.
Do you struggle with prenatal or postpartum depression? If so, you aren’t alone. Please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at straighttalkcounseling.org. One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.