Our society as a whole has become more aware of the symptoms and warning signs associated with postpartum depression in the past decade. This has been wonderful for those women who suffer from this mood disorder, as it helps them feel less alone in their distress. What has not been addressed as fully, however, is the concept of prenatal, or perinatal, depression.
Depression may begin during pregnancy and doesn’t always affect a woman after the birth of her baby. In fact, about 13% of pregnant women will suffer from depression while carrying their child. Feeling overwhelmed and worrying 24/7 can be all-consuming, making it difficult to function in everyday life and remain physically capable of supporting a growing baby. You don’t need to have struggled with a mental disorder previously to fall into one during pregnancy, either. Often, it comes out of left field, which makes it harder to recognize.
Prenatal vs postpartum
Prenatal depression often hits women a lot harder than those who experience it postpartum. Symptoms may look different and include:
- Excessive worry about the baby
- Low self-esteem and anxiety about being a “good enough” mother
- No joy from activities and hobbies
- Poor response to reassurance
- Poor adherence to prenatal care
- Smoking, drinking, refusal to eat enough food and other activities that could be harmful to the baby
- Suicidal thoughts
Because prenatal depression isn’t widely known, future moms don’t know what to look for, and that makes the disorder all the more dangerous. That, and the constantly shifting hormonal surges, often lead moms-to-be to blame their erratic behavior on mood swings instead of seeking much-needed treatment. It’s vital for future moms to get care BEFORE birthing to make sure they can keep their prenatal requirements for a healthy baby.
Women enduring an unwanted pregnancy or with poor social support are more likely to suffer from prenatal depression. Also, those who are abused by their partners are at risk for many things, including prenatal depression. This usually translates to the most likely candidates for this disorder being socioeconomically vulnerable women.
Other risk factors include a history of depression or anxiety as well as heightened life stress. For many women who are both working and mothering, stress can take its toll on the body and the mind. Making time for self-care, then, becomes a crucial element to a healthy pregnancy as well as a healthy postpartum experience.
As with most forms of depression, screening tests are a measurable way to monitor patients and make sure each woman is receiving the help she needs based on her level of mental health. (Hancock Regional provides a full range of mental health services, including screenings.) Antidepressants and psychotherapy are often used to treat prenatal depression, depending on the severity. Lifestyle changes can also be helpful, including changes in diet that provide more nutrition and energy, exercising and calming practices such as yoga, prayer or meditation. Body work, such as prenatal massage or acupuncture, are also a great way to relieve stress, especially when used in conjunction with other therapies or medications.
It is important to remember that both prenatal and postpartum depression are not effects of something a woman has done, but rather diagnosed medical conditions. If you or someone you love is suffering from prenatal depression, seeking treatment is the single best way to ensure a healthy pregnancy and postpartum period. Whether you feel mildly affected or you believe you have a severe case of depression, it is always wise to seek the counsel of your physician, who can direct you toward getting the help you need and deserve.