Depression During Pregnancy: Symptoms, Risks, And Treatment

check_icon Research-backed

Image: Shutterstock

IN THIS ARTICLE

According to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), around 14 to 23% of women experience depression during pregnancy (1). It is normal for pregnant women to go through emotional highs and lows due to hormonal changes. However, if the lows persist for longer and start inferring in the daily activities, it can be a sign of depression.

Depression is a mental health issue and should not be ignored. However, it can be treated with the right support and treatment if sought at the right time.

Read on as we help you understand depression during pregnancy, including its causes, symptoms, and treatments.

What Is Depression In Pregnancy?

Depression during pregnancy or antepartum depression is a mental illness characterized by mood disorders. It is usual to feel anxious, sad, or hollow, which can ultimately take a toll on your day-to-day life. Depression can arise from chemical changes in the brain triggered by hormonal fluctuations and often heightened by the different life situations associated with pregnancy (1) (2).

Why Does Depression During Pregnancy Often Go Unrecognized?

Depression is often dismissed during pregnancy since depression symptoms, such as changes in energy levels, sleep, libido, and appetite, also occur in pregnancy (1) (3). Therefore, it is usual that you and your doctor may attribute these symptoms to pregnancy over depression. Also, a mother’s physical health is emphasized more than emotional health during pregnancy. But, depression can have a greater impact on the mother and the baby, and hence it is important to be aware of the signs.

What Are The Risk Factors For Depression During Pregnancy?

Besides hormonal changes and chemical imbalance, the prevalence of depression can be triggered by other factors. They are:

  • Family history of depression: You may experience depression symptoms during pregnancy if depression or anxiety runs in your family. Genetic predisposition can cause your development of the illness if you have a gene related to it (4) (5).
  • Personal history of depression: You may be prone to depression during pregnancy if you are already suffering from it or have a previous history of depression (5).
  • Lack of social support: You will strive for your family and loved ones’ support and care during pregnancy. However, if there is a sense of abandonment from your family or your partner, you may feel isolated and develop depression. In addition, marital or relationship issues can also lead to a lack of support (6).
  • Previous pregnancy issues: Extreme protectiveness towards the baby due to a previous failed or complicated pregnancy may give rise to anxiety and thus depression. History of stillbirth or miscarriage may also be one of the risk factors for depression (2) (7).
  • Unplanned pregnancy: If you are pregnant by accident or without planning, you might develop depression due to the overwhelming situation. An unplanned pregnancy can be more intense for a single parent or teenager (5).
  • Infertility treatments: The fertility treatments for inducing pregnancy can cause mixed emotions and psychological distress from the hormonal shifts (8).
  • Stressful life events: Situations, including economic instability, problems or disputes in relationships, death of a loved one, abusive relationships can create stress and trigger depression. You should seek a healthcare provider’s help immediately (2).

What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Depression During Pregnancy?

Signs and symptoms of normal pregnancy and depression are similar. But depression symptoms are severe and last for more than two weeks. These include (5):

Changes in feelings

  • An overwhelming feeling of sadness, hopelessness, and guilt
  • Crying and feeling worthless
  • Negative thoughts about life
  • Continuous restlessness or moodiness

Changes in body

  • Frequent pains, such as headaches and stomachaches
  • Losing energy and feeling tired most of the time

Changes in daily activities

  • Losing interest in favorite activities
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Troubled or excessive sleep
  • Having problems with decision making or concentrating
  • Withdrawing from family and friends

What Are The Recommendations For Screening Of Prenatal Depression?

ACOG recommends screening of perinatal depression at least once during pregnancy. The healthcare provider will carry out the screening using standardized tools. The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) is the most used scale that consists of a set of questions about mood and anxiety to assess your mental state. It gives a score according to the scale based on your answers to determine if you have depression or not.

Additionally, the healthcare provider may ask if you have any previous history of depression, difficulty sleeping, or unwanted thoughts lately. Then, follow-up treatment is carried out to detect depression or anxiety symptoms (9).

How Is Depression Treated During Pregnancy?

Your doctor may recommend different antidepressant treatments for your prenatal depression. These are:

  • Talk therapy: Counseling sessions or talk therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT), can help you deal with negative thoughts, focus on the positive sides, and manage the symptoms effectively (5) (10).
  • Support groups: These groups of people can meet online or together to discuss and share their problems. It can help you get the understanding and care you need as you share each other’s experiences (5).
  • Medications: Antidepressant medicines are recommended depending on the severity of your symptoms. They include serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). However, they are given only if their benefits outweigh the side effects they may have on your pregnancy and the baby.
  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT): Electric current is passed through the brain to treat pregnancy. It is considered in case of severe depression (5).

Key Pointers

  • Prenatal depression is a mental illness accompanied by troubled sleeping, eating, and energy levels.
  • Risk factors include a prior history of depression, family history, unplanned pregnancy, etc.
  • Talk therapies, support groups, and antidepressant medications are a few ways of treating depression.
  • If you are depressed, talk to your healthcare provider to avoid complications for you and your baby.

What Are The Natural Remedies For Depression?

You may also incorporate the below changes or alternative therapies in addition to the treatments by checking with your healthcare provider (1).

  • Diet: Food can affect our mental state by controlling stress and mood. Certain foods high in carbohydrates, sugar, caffeine, or low in protein can impact your mental and physical well-being. Pick food that can fuel your body and brighten your mood.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Daily intake of omega-3 supplements have shown significant improvement in alleviating depression symptoms. You can take omega-3 or fish oils after consulting your doctor about the required amount.
  • Exercise and rest: Get plenty of rest and sleep to have a balanced body and mind. Regular exercise can also reduce depression by elevating serotonin levels and decreasing cortisol levels.
  • Herbal medicine: Talk with your healthcare provider about taking herbal medicines for depression. These medicines are believed to affect the mood and serotonin in the body.
  • Acupuncture: Studies have shown that acupuncture could help treat depression during pregnancy. A cohort study showed that women with acupuncture treatment had alleviated symptoms compared to those who did not receive the treatment (11).

What Are The Complications Of Untreated Depression During Pregnancy?

Some of the complications that may arise from untreated depression are (5):

  • Smoking, drinking, eating unhealthily or skipping meals.
  • Risk for premature birth, low birth weight, and developmental and mental health issues after birth.
  • Postpartum depression (PPD) makes it difficult for you to take care of yourself and your baby.

Can You Prevent Depression During Pregnancy?

According to the US Preventive Services Task Force, counseling sessions, such as CBT and IPT, can help prevent depression during pregnancy. These talk therapies aim at providing helpful suggestions to cope with mental issues that can trigger depression. Alternatively, pregnant women with risk factors should seek support or talk with a counselor to prevent depression (10).

Pregnancy is a rollercoaster of emotions, and most pregnant women go through them. It is okay to feel overwhelmed by emotions and newfound responsibilities. You only need to be mindful of the changes and share your feelings with your family, friends, or a counselor for a smooth pregnancy journey.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Depression during pregnancy.
    https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/depression-during-pregnancy/
  2. Depression during and after pregnancy.
    https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/depression-during-and-after-pregnancy
  3. Depression during pregnancy and after.
    https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/depression-during-pregnancy-and-after
  4. Multigenerational depression and anxiety influence maternal measures of stress during pregnancy.
    https://scholar.colorado.edu/concern/undergraduate_honors_theses/ng451j120
  5. Depression during pregnancy.
    https://www.marchofdimes.org/complications/depression-during-pregnancy.aspx
  6. Depression during and after pregnancy.
    https://medicine.tulane.edu/sites/g/files/rdw761/f/pictures/depression-pregnancy-womens-health-gov-2.pdf
  7. Shaunak Ajinkya et al (2013). Depression during pregnancy: Prevalence and obstetric risk factors among pregnant women attending a tertiary care hospital in Navi Mumbai.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3895310/
  8. Fertility and mental health.
    https://womensmentalhealth.org/specialty-clinics/infertility-and-mental-health/
  9. Screening for perinatal depression.
    https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/committee-opinion/articles/2018/11/screening-for-perinatal-depression
  10. Preventing depression in pregnancy.
    https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/preventing-depression-in-pregnancy-new-guidelines-2019032616263
  11. Rachel Manber et al. Acupuncture for depression during pregnancy: a randomized controlled trial.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20177281/
The following two tabs change content below.

Aneesha Amonz

Aneesha holds a Bachelor's degree in Biotechnology from USTM, Meghalaya and Master’s degree in Applied Microbiology from VIT, Vellore. She has worked on different research projects in the field of Food Sciences. In addition, she has an internship experience in Oil India Limited as an R&D project trainee. As a writer at MomJunction, Aneesha ensures her content is engaging and... more

LATEST ARTICLES