In Pregnancy & in the first weeks following childbirth, a new mother goes through a roller coaster of emotions. She may feel many wonderful feelings including awe, joy and bliss. But what does one do when they are concurrently faced with confusion, fear, stress and even depression.
Depression is a mood disorder that affects 1 in 4 women at some point during their lifetime, and about 1 in 10 women experience depression during pregnancy. The actual number could be higher because so many women affected by it are reluctant to admit or think it is just another type of hormonal imbalance. If depression runs in your family, you are at a higher risk of experiencing depression during your pregnancy.
Pregnant women who are depressed often complain of fatigue or troubled sleeping patterns.
Some of the Most Common Symptoms Experienced by Women are:
- Losing interest in daily activities, or having a sense that nothing is enjoyable or fun anymore
- Feeling sad, or empty for most of the day
- Crying all the time
- Feeling extremely irritated or agitated
- Feeling anxious
- Finding it hard to concentrate
- Having low energy or extreme fatigue that does not improve with rest
- Experiencing changes in patterns of eating or sleeping, such as wanting to eat or sleep all the time or not being able to eat or sleep at all
- Having overwhelming feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or hopelessness
- Feeling that life is not worth living
There are a number of women who have been diagnosed with depression or anxiety even before conceiving. On learning about the coming of the new born, they very often stop medication in fear of exposing their baby to the effects of the medication. Stopping or changing of medication should be done only after consulting the doctor.
Untreated depression in pregnancy also bears risks, not only for the mother herself but for the newborn as well. The mother tries to cope up with her condition with unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, mild drinking; not following up with prenatal care or eating an unhealthy diet which in turn affects her unborn child.
Depressed pregnant women show higher levels of prenatal stress hormone (cortisol) compared to healthy women which results in them having smaller babies in mid pregnancy and slower fetal growth compared to non-depressed women. They are more likely to have premature delivery and babies with low birth weight.
The result on the newborns of depressed mothers ramifies in significantly higher urinary stress hormone themselves, compared to those of healthy mothers, which makes them more stress reactive, temperamentally difficult, and more challenging to care for and soothe. In the long run, children exposed to maternal depression in pregnancy face more social and emotional problems as young children, such as aggression and other behavioural problems. Depression is known to negatively impact a child’s IQ and their language is also delayed.
Only women with extreme cases of depression are prescribed anti-depressants, but most doctors suggest non-drug approaches including psychotherapy, light therapy, accupuncture, and meditation.
There are some lifestyle changes you could also adopt to keep depression at bay. Such as:
- Rest as much as you can. Fatigue intensifies pregnancy mood swings, so make you are getting enough rest. Go to bed early, sleep late or take naps whenever possible.
- Being in nature has been proven to reduce stress and depression symptoms. So spend as much time outdoors as possible.
- Put your chores on hold. You do not have to set up the nursery, reorganize your closets and stock up on baby supplies all at the same time. So resist the urge to get everything done all at once and include your family and friends in the tasks.
- Eat a balanced pregnancy diet. Regular snacks and meals can keep your blood sugar up, keeping moods stable. Avoid caffeine, sugar and processed foods, and opt instead for a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids which has been shown to lower the risk of depression during pregnancy.
- Regular, frequent physical activity boosts feel-good endorphins and has been shown to help stabilize your moods. Regular aerobic exercise is as effective at treating depression as taking an antidepressant.
- Make time to visit friends and be alone with your partner, whether it is dinner out or just for a night of movies and popcorn. Intimacy of any kind from simple cuddling to handholding can help you feel closer and boost your mood.
- Avoid big life changes if possible which could induce stress like moving or starting a new job until you have got your symptoms of depression under control. If making a big change is unavoidable, try to arrange support ahead of time.
- If you are worried, anxious or feeling unsettled about the future, do not hold it in. Discuss your feelings. Get support from your partner, family and friends.
- Join a support group. Ask your doctor about support groups in your area where you can talk to other pregnant women in similar situations, or look for online groups. Building your support network now will be helpful even after your baby arrives.
- Above all don’t be hesitant to ask for professional help.
Written By: Dr Shilpa Ghosh (Venkateshwar Hospital, Dwarka)