You've heard it before and you will hear it again -- the health of the mom directly affects the health of the baby. And sometimes a mom-to-be has to deal with the intensity of depression or anxiety during her pregnancy. Attempting to ignore the stress of such a situation or manage it without medical intervention can be incredibly detrimental to your little one in utero.
Between 15 and 23 percent of pregnant women are clinically depressed, according to Shoshana Bennett, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of Pregnant on Prozac and Postpartum Depression for Dummies.
Untreated depressed moms-to-be are often in danger of not taking proper care of themselves. They may skip prenatal check-ups, not eat well or self-medicate with over-the-counter medications or other substances, explains Bennett. "Untreated depression in pregnancy is strongly associated with preterm delivery, among other problems," she adds.
If you already know you're at risk for depression, discuss the matter with your obstetrician immediately. You should also find a therapist who specializes in perinatal mental health, advises Bennett. "The therapist should be able to outline a simple wellness strategy for each woman." It's perfectly acceptable and normal to be treated by your OB and a psychiatrist or mental health expert simultaneously during your pregnancy.
As Bennett says, "There's nothing to be concerned about as long as moms seek appropriate help, since depression in pregnancy is totally treatable. The concern arises when a woman tries to 'tough it out' and not get help. This can be dangerous for all concerned, since depression crosses the placenta."
In The Mommy MD Guide to Pregnancy and Birth, mom and doctor Eva R. explains how anxiety over her older daughter's illness physically affected her second child while she was carrying her: "When she was born, she had a sucking blister on her wrist. She was under so much stress that she sucked on her own hand inside of me. What you do -- and even what you think -- matters."
Motherhood is a huge life change -- adjusting to the idea of this new role, dealing with the ups and downs of pregnancy and anything else that may crop up along the way can all lead to depression and anxiety. "Every pregnant woman should be screened for depression each trimester," Bennett says, adding that treatment should definitely include therapy -- and often, that's all that's needed.
There are also other natural and alternative methods of treatment available, including particular nutrients like Omega 3 fish oil with DHA and EPA, says Bennett. Typically these are found in prenatal vitamins, so ask your doctor about these supplements if you're not taking them already.
"Some women may need an antidepressant," Bennett says, "which is another important reason to work with a practitioner with the right clinical expertise." And needing medication is nothing to be ashamed of -- it means you're taking all the steps you possibly can to protect the well-being of yourself and baby during pregnancy.
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