While most of us have heard about postpartum depression, prenatal (or antenatal) depression is less familiar. Changing emotions are common during pregnancy (hello, mood swings!), but prenatal depression is a more pervasive and different story. Here’s why.
Symptoms of prenatal depression
Prenatal depression can be caused by hormone imbalances during pregnancy, but other issues may be a factor as well, such as morning sickness, fatigue, physical changes, impending life changes, difficulties during past pregnancies and personal relationships.
While knowing the potential cause is one thing, it’s important to know what symptoms to look out for. Thai-An Truong, founder of Lasting Change Therapy LLC, focuses on prenatal and postpartum depression in her practice. She notes that there are a few signs of prenatal depression moms-to-be can look out for, such as:
- Feeling sad and down
- Crying more than usual
- Feeling discouraged
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Low self-esteem
- Lack of motivation
- Fatigue beyond normal tiredness of pregnancy
- Suicidal thoughts
“People are often not aware that prenatal depression always comes with some level of anxiety,” says Truong. “We may see prenatal anxiety without depression, but not the other way around?.”
Symptoms of prenatal anxiety
In addition to prenatal depression, pregnant women should also note these following symptoms, which indicate that anxiety may be an issue.
- Feeling frightened or terrified about the pregnancy and the future
- Worrying more than usual
- Feeling tense, nervous or on edge
- Increased irritability, frustration, annoyance, resentment and/or anger
When to get help
While it may be difficult to tell when mental health help may be needed, Truong says, “If they see two or more of these symptoms under each section, it could indicate at least moderate depression and anxiety, and they could benefit from professional mental health services.”
It’s crucial to note that if treatment is sought during pregnancy, it can help lower the risk of developing postpartum depression — or it can help reduce the intensity if it does occur.
Treatment for prenatal depression
Treatment can consist of individual therapy or group therapy (Truong often suggests both).
According to Truong, treatment includes cognitive interventions to change their thoughts and beliefs at a gut level; behavioral interventions to have them engage in exercise, healthy movement they enjoy and activities just for pleasure and personal growth; motivational interventions to help them work through resistance of getting better; and interpersonal interventions to access support, improve quality of relationships or shed tying worth with status of relationships (i.e., recognizing that being alone brings on some of the greatest satisfaction at times).
In addition to individual or group therapy, some doctors prescribe antidepressants. Most antidepressants are safe to use during pregnancy, but it’s vital to let your caregiver know you’re pregnant so you both can weigh the potential risks with the treatment of choice.
You’re not alone
While depression can be a scary thing to go through, it’s important to note that your care providers are there to help you every step of the way — and also there are quite a few other women who are going through the same thing (around 13 percent of pregnant women and new moms have depression).
If you’re worried that you may have depression, reach out and get help.