Pregnancy and Depression

Feeling down and depressed is more common in pregnancy than you like. Here's why - and what you can do to help yourself

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Finding out you are going to be a mum and feeling your baby growing inside you is supposed to be a happy time. Everyone tells you that you should be blooming. So what if you don’t feel that way?

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Depression doesn’t just happen to new mums. It can strike during pregnancy too, with 3-5 per cent of expectant women formally diagnosed with this mental health condition, and up to 14 per cent suffering without a diagnosis. The good news is, there are ways to help yourself feel better.

Why do I feel down and depressed?

“Your body’s producing hormones at levels you’ve never experienced before,” says independent midwife Eleanor May-Johnson. “Oestrogen, progesterone and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) can cause major mood swings.”

If you’ve a tendency to depression, or you’ve been coping with other life stresses lately, it’s no surprise that you might struggle to feel happy during pregnancy.

There’s also the psychological element, especially if this is not your first baby. Some mums admit they feel depressed before giving birth to a second child, because they’re exhausted from caring for the first.

CrazyBaby says: “I am 25+5 weeks preggers and have been feeling depressed too. I have a 16 month old baby girl and am not sure if it’s because I’m pregnant that I feel depressed or because she is wearing me out.”

However, independent midwife Joy Horner is quick to reassure second-time mums-to-be. “If your previous birth didn’t go as you’d planned, it’s worth chatting to other mums who’ve been in the same boat, but have had a more positive experience.”

She also suggests discussing your fears and anxieties with your midwife. If you had a difficult birth, talk about what happened last time and ask if things can be handled differently.

How can I tell if I’m depressed?

How do you know when ‘down in the dumps’ becomes’depressed? It’s a fine line but depression usually lasts for longer than a couple of weeks, and sufferers find that they struggle to feel happy about things that used to bring them joy, like seeing friends, hobbies, or exercise. Symptoms might include:

  • Tearfulness
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt
  • Insomnia
  • Tiredness
  • Isolating yourself
  • Lack of interest in the future
  • A ‘flat’ feeling that persists.

Makka_Pakka2 says:“I feel miserable and pessimistic all the time about this baby. I’m sleeping really poorly and I just can’t get excited about it like everyone else seems to.” 

On the forums, several mums admit they feel embarrassed because they’re not excited and full of beans, the way second-trimester mums to be are ‘supposed’ to feel. But for many of us, the third to sixth months are filled with anxiety and stress. You might be moving house, have relationship strife, and are simply worried about the baby.

If you’re tearful occasionally, that’s totally normal ‘pregnancy gloom’, fuelled by hormones. But if it feels like a weight that never lets up, it’s time to seek help 

I’m already on medication for depression – should I stop taking it?

Consult your GP as soon as you find out you’re pregnant. While some depression medications may be safe during pregnancy, there are question marks over others. For instance, the NHS doesn’t recommend Sertraline in pregnancy.

Dr Philippa Kaye says: “If you are taking this medication and are planning to conceive or if you are already pregnant and taking it, please do speak to your doctor.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to cause problems for you or your baby, but there are other antidepressants of the same type that could be safer.

That’s because Sertraline is one of a range of drugs called SSRIs, which also include Prozac. The UK Teratology Information Service – which looks at how drugs can affect pregnancy – explains that data on the risks of Sertraline can be conflicting.

“I was on Prozac (which is safe in pregnancy),” says Lelly, “I still am actually and I’m now 39 weeks”.

Where can I go for help with depression during pregnancy?

Sophie Corlett, of the mental health charity Mind, says that the stigma associated with depression means that many pregnant women are reluctant to ask for help.

“When women are pregnant, they realise they are supposed to be full of excitement and they are bemused and slightly ashamed of not feeling that way, which can make it more difficult to seek support,” she says.

Are there alternatives to anti-depressant drugs?

If you’d rather try a natural route first, consider acupuncture – many mums have found it really helps their feelings of depression, stress and anxiety.

The idea of using acupuncture is backed up by a study from Stanford University School of Medicine which found that two-thirds of mums-to-be who received acupuncture, specifically targeting depression, saw an improvement in their symptoms.

No matter how listless and down you feel, taking care of yourself is vital, so ditch the guilt. Several mums admit they felt much better once they were signed off work, with a little more freedom to focus on themselves.

“I found that going out the house and doing things whether connected with the pregnancy or not really helped when I was at my lowest,” says gazsgirl.

”I found a book called The Mood Cure absolutely wonderful and it really helped me get better. It shows you how nutrition can really improve your wellbeing and address some of the issues connected with depression.”

gazsgirl also suggests getting daylight bulbs for the rooms you spend the most time in. She adds: “Treat yourself every week and make a big deal out of it, whether it’s a manicure, a walk in the park and an ice cream or a massage… make it a ritual and book something in your diary each week.”

And if you feel you need a lot more than a manicure to pull you up, talk to your GP – you can get counselling from the NHS. It’s important to tackle depression in pregnancy, as recent studies suggest that stress and depression may lead to premature birth.

Will I get postnatal depression?

There’s no definite link between depression in pregnancy and postnatal depression, but if you have a history of depression, or had a difficult birth, you may find it hard to feel positive.

It’s important to tell your health visitor how you feel and be aware that there are many sources of support. Antidepressants, counselling, extra help with the baby, or natural remedies may all be beneficial. And these organisations can help too – you don’t need to suffer alone.

pandasfoundation.org.uk Help for pre and post-natal depression

mind.org.uk Mental health charity which offers support for pre- and post-natal depression

samaritans.org Phone anonymously, 08457 90 90 90 *24 hours a day.

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