How Depression and Anxiety Affect Pregnant Women
Having a child is a beautiful thing. It’s amazing being able to witness new life being brought into this world, but there are many side effects of pregnancy not discussed often enough.
A study revealed 1 in 5 women weren’t questioned about depressive symptoms during their prenatal doctor visits.
The above statistic is frightening considering how common it is for women to struggle with depression and anxiety in their pre and/or postnatal stages. Many call this type of depression the ‘baby blues’.
For more information on depression and anxiety during the pregnancy process, and what to do to take care of your mental health during pregnancy, keep reading below.
Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety
Terms relating to anxiety and depression are often heard across social media and casual conversations. While it’s beneficial to break down the stigma around discussing mental health, there’s a lot of misinformation being spread.
Depression is different from feelings of sadness or extreme boredom. This mental illness has a way of sticking around for prolonged periods of time. In fact, the DSM-5 states that in order for someone to be diagnosed with depression, they must exhibit at least 5 symptoms for a minimum of 2 weeks.
Symptoms of depression include but aren’t limited to:
Everyone’s experience with depression is different, and symptoms may come in waves. No matter your experience with depression, it’s important to seek professional help when it becomes a chronic problem.
Those struggling with anxiety face persistent and excessive worry. Some people even experience psychosomatic issues such as increased heart rate and body pains.
To be diagnosed with anxiety, an individual must show at least 3 symptoms more days than not in a 6-month span.
Symptoms of anxiety include but aren’t limited to:
Anxiety has a major effect on an individual’s daily functioning. It can cause them to avoid certain scenarios or environments out of fear and can affect their interpersonal relationships.
Prenatal and Postpartum Depression
Prenatal and postpartum depression affect many mothers and can make them feel extremely isolated throughout the pregnancy journey.
If you’re a soon-to-be or recent new mother experiencing prenatal or postpartum depression, know that it’s rather normal and not your fault. This type of depression doesn’t make you an ‘unfit’ mother, as many women may feel it does.
Women struggling with prenatal depression find it overwhelming because their body is going through so many changes. The bodily changes and depression combined can bring about feelings of rage and anxiety.
Depression doesn’t have a direct effect on your baby, unless it is severe. However, it’s important to seek help before the depression takes a toll on your daily habits.
Thousands of women have struggled with sleeping, eating balanced meals, and getting enough exercise as an effect of prenatal depression. In extreme cases, some mothers have turned to unhealthy substances to alleviate depressive symptoms.
Mood and Emotional Issues by the Numbers
Sadly, many women feel as if they’re alone when struggling with depression or anxiety. These feelings of isolation have become worse in the age of social media. It’s easy for women to compare themselves to other mothers.
It’s important to remember you’re not alone if you’re experiencing depression along your pregnancy journey.
7% of women experience depression during pregnancy. For some of these women, these mood changes develop into long-lasting postpartum depression.
Anxiety is also common in pregnant women. 10% of pregnant women have reported feelings of anxiety. They’ve experienced panic attacks, feelings of irritation, fear of motherhood, etc.
Some women have even reported a phobia of giving birth. This can be due to past traumatic experiences or a fear of medical settings.
Mood Disorders Often Experienced by Pregnant Women
In addition to the above-mentioned mood disorders, there are other mood disorders frequently experienced by pregnant women and new mothers.
Pregnancy can be a trigger for certain disorders, including Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Women struggling with perinatal OCD experience intrusive and obsessive thoughts and/or images regarding birth and their child. These thoughts lead to major anxiety.
In order to reduce anxiety, women with OCD act compulsively. They may constantly check on the baby as they sleep, disinfect and re-disinfect surfaces touched by the baby, and seek constant reassurance from their partner.
Many of us think of war veterans or crime victims when we hear of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Mothers can also develop PTSD after the birthing experience.
PTSD is common in mothers who experience difficulty during birth, whether it be difficult with their own health or their child’s. Many women also develop PTSD after losing a child during birth.
Women with PTSD may have recurring nightmares and flashbacks or be triggered by the sound of crying infants.
0.089 to 2.6% of every 1,000 births lead to postpartum psychosis. Symptoms of this disorder can include but aren’t limited to:
While rare, some women have committed suicide or have harmed (and even killed) their babies due to delusions. No matter the severity of delusions and hallucinations, it’s important to seek help when experiencing psychosis.
Associated Risk Factors
Risk factors are factors that increase the chance of an emotional disorder. There are many risk factors for depression and anxiety during the pregnancy process.
Risk factors include:
If you plan on becoming pregnant or are currently pregnant, it’s important to be aware of these risk factors. Identifying risk factors aids in taking care of yourself.
Taking Care of Yourself
Guarantee you’re getting enough sleep, especially while pregnant. This may sound laughable with a newborn, but there are ways to sneak in a few hours of rest. Ask your partner or a trusted family member to watch the baby if you’re feeling exhausted.
If you’re in a supportive environment, speak to your loved ones about picking up some extra tasks in the home. Ask your partner or other children to help with cooking, taking out the trash, or walking the dog. This will allow you to rest and tend to the baby’s needs.
Keep a bottle of water by your side at all times. Remain hydrated during pregnancy and after. Avoid sugary drinks. Hydration
Develop a balanced, nutritious meal plan. Include tons of lean protein, fresh vegetables and fruits, and whole grains. And yes, the occasional piece of cake is well deserved.
Find ways to keep active while pregnant or with a newborn. Go on walks around the neighborhood, check out prenatal yoga classes, and join activity groups with other new moms.
Never deny help! If someone you love and trust offers to watch the baby for a bit, say yes. Use the extra time to catch up on work or get a massage.
Are you experiencing depression and anxiety in your pregnancy journey? There’s help available.
Traditional talk therapy is very helpful for many pregnant women and new mothers. Find a therapist who works in a therapeutic style that best fits your needs.
A common therapy technique is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This type of therapy aims to change negative thinking patterns into healthy patterns. Healthy thoughts encourage healthy actions lifestyles.
Many women also find mindfulness-based therapy to be helpful. Learning to become grounded within the present moment is useful if you often find your fearful thoughts taking control. Tools used in this type of therapy include meditation and breathing exercises.
Find support in a group setting. As mentioned above, many mothers struggle with depression and anxiety.
Becoming part of a group that understands your struggles is validating. The support system will help keep you accountable and provide helpful advice when dealing with your own negative emotions.
When joining a support group, make sure to understand the style in which the leading therapist works. Surround yourself with supportive group members and a strong leader.
Chat with an experienced doctor about the possibility of antidepressants and/or anxiety medication. A handful of medications have proven to be safe for pregnant and nursing women.
Your doctor will run a few tests and ask a few questions to guarantee you and the baby will remain safe once prescribed a medication. Listen carefully to your doctor’s advice, and monitor your body once you start the medicine. You know your body best.
Do you have a concern about your medication? Are you experiencing adverse side effects during pregnancy or nursing? Speak to your doctor as soon as possible.
Depression and Anxiety Among Pregnant Women and New Mothers
Becoming a new mother isn’t easy for any woman. It’s overwhelming to watch your body and life change, especially if you’re experiencing depression and anxiety.
Mood disorders and anxiety aren’t uncommon for pregnant women and new mothers. Pregnancy acts as a trigger for many mental health concerns. It’s important to keep in mind that help is available.
Solara Mental Health is available to those seeking support within the San Diego area. We treat a variety of mental disorders through a variety of therapeutic programs. Check out our site to learn more about our admissions process today.
- Biaggi, A., Conroy, S., Pawlby, S., & Pariante, C. M. (2016). Identifying the women at risk of antenatal anxiety and depression: A systematic review. Journal of affective disorders, 191, 62–77. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2015.11.014
- Dunkel Schetter, C., & Tanner, L. (2012). Anxiety, depression and stress in pregnancy: implications for mothers, children, research, and practice. Current opinion in psychiatry, 25(2), 141–148. https://doi.org/10.1097/YCO.0b013e3283503680
- Gavin, M. L. (Ed.). (2017, February). Taking Care of Your Mental Health During Pregnancy (for Parents) – Nemours KidsHealth. Retrieved from https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/pregnant-mental-health.html
- National Child ＆ Maternal Health Education Program – Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2019, November 19). Depression and Anxiety During Pregnancy and After Birth: FAQs. Retrieved November 11, 2021, from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/prenatal/Pages/Depression-and-Anxiety-During-Pregnancy-and-After-Birth-FAQs.aspx