Depression During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is known as being a time of elated joy in a woman's life. Even though she might experience some mood swings because of the changes in her hormones, on the whole, pregnant women are happy. And for the most part, this idyllic picture is correct. However, for an estimated 10% to 20% of pregnant women, their perfect time is overshadowed by depression.

Possible Triggers
Depression during pregnancy can be caused by a number of things. Hormones may be to blame, but there are other factors that can affect a woman's mood and outlook during pregnancy. Here are some of the main risk factors for developing depression during pregnancy.

  • a personal or family history of depression
  • experiencing an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy
  • dealing with marital or financial problems
  • going through significant life changes, like the death of a relative or changing jobs
  • experiencing medical problems or complications with the pregnancy
  • suffering a previous pregnancy loss

The Warning Signs
It is important to recognize and be able to distinguish pregnancy depression from mood swings. While mood swings can make you feel low or sad at times, it is not the same as depression. Once you are able to identify the symptoms of depression, you can begin to seek help. Some of the most common signs of depression are:

  • trouble concentrating
  • extreme anxiety
  • feeling extremely irritable
  • troubles sleeping or insomnia
  • fatigue
  • change in eating habits
  • loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • exaggerated mood swings
  • constant sadness
  • thoughts of hurting yourself or others
Additionally, pregnancy depression is most common during the first trimester and towards the end of pregnancy.

Getting Help
It is important to receive help and treatment for your pregnancy depression. If left untreated, it could get worse. Additionally, experiencing depression in pregnancy puts you at a higher risk of developing postpartum depression. Seeking help now may help prevent it. If you recognize yourself in the list of symptoms and have been experiencing them for more than two weeks, then make an appointment with your health care provider. If you have thoughts about hurting yourself or others, suffer from panic attacks or are having troubles coping with your daily responsibilities, contact your health care provider immediately.

Antidepressants and Pregnancy
There are a variety of treatments available to women suffering from depression during pregnancy. Depending on the severity of your depression, you may have to take antidepressants. If you are concerned about the safety of the drug, rest assured that many have been deemed safe for use by pregnant women. Regardless, be sure to discuss any apprehensions you have over the medication with your health care provider.

A recent study performed at the Ottawa Health Research Institute has raised some worries about the use of SSRIs in pregnancy. SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, are one of the most popular types of antidepressants prescribed today. They include popular medications such as Zoloft, Paxil, and Prozac. This study analyzed health records of more than 900 women who took SSRIs througout their pregnancies and compared them to more than 3,900 pregnant women who were not depressed and did not use medications. The study revealed that those women taking SSRIs during pregnancy experienced more pregnancy complications than those women who did not take SSRIs. In particular, the pregnant women taking the SSRIs had:

  • twice as many low birthweight babies
  • twice as many stillbirths
  • almost twice as many preterm deliveries

Their babies were also four times as likely to experience seizures in the initial days following labor and delivery.

Despite these findings, the study has not yet determined if SSRIs actually cause these complications in pregnancy. Because depressed women are more likely to miss prenatal appointments, eat more poorly, smoke or take street drugs, the study may simply be reporting on the fact that complications are more likely to occur in depressed women. It is important to talk to your health care provider if you are taking SSRIs or any other antidepressant. In some cases, the benefits of these medications far outweighed the negative effects that depression can have on both you and your baby.

Other Treatments for Depression
Your health care provider may also recommend psychotherapy for your depression. If your depression is mild to moderate, your treatment may simply require you to attend a support group. Talking with other women who are experiencing the same problem can be very reassuring and can help break the feeling of isolation you may be feeling.

If you have been prescribed medication, you may want to supplement that treatment by attending a support group. Studies have shown that women who are taking antidepressants recover faster when they also attend support groups.

Preventing Depression
Just as talking can be a form of treatment for depression, it can also be a form of prevention. Talk with your partner about your worries and fears with the pregnancy and listen to what they have to say. Also, look to do more activities together. Take a vacation or weekend break if you can afford it. Look to strengthen your relationship now so that it will be stronger than ever when the baby is born.

Spend time with your friends. You may not be able to see them as much as you would like once the baby arrives, so go out with your friends now. You can also draw on them for additional emotional support.

Although it may not seem possible, try to relax as much as you can. You and your health have to be your top priority right now, not working overtime. Sit down and put your feet up, stay in bed a bit longer, or read a book. If you feel guilty, then just remember that you're doing it for the health of yourself and your baby.

Exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet can also make a big difference in your mood. Exercise can be especially helpful since it can help combat stress. Taking a prenatal yoga class can help you stay fit and it can also teach you proper breathing and meditation methods, both of which can help you stay calm. The techniques will also come in handy during the labor.

You can also reduce your stress by avoiding major life changes. While some changes cannot be avoided, like a death in the family, others can. Changing jobs or moving across the country may not be the best decision when you are pregnant. Even just moving down the street can be quite stressful, so if it doesn't have to be done right now, then put it off.

Starting a pregnancy journal may also be beneficial as it can give you an outlet to express your feelings and emotions.

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