Depression During Pregnancy: Signs of Prenatal Depression

Pregnancy is an exciting time, but it can also be a time of change, stress, and worry for some expecting parents. It is not uncommon for pregnant women to experience mood swings, anxiety, and other mental health changes during pregnancy. However, when these mental health symptoms become more severe and persistent, it could be a sign of prenatal depression.

While postnatal depression is becoming more openly talked about and discussed, you might not be as used to hearing or reading about depression during pregnancy. Also known as antenatal depression, prenatal depression is a mental health condition that affects around 12% of expecting mums, and can be an extremely difficult time to go through.

What is Prenatal Depression?

Prenatal depression is a mental health disorder that occurs during pregnancy. Some changes to your mood and emotion during pregnancy are completely normal, and it’s common for many women to feel irritable and tired at times. 

Still, if you’re feeling down, sad, or angry all the time, or can feel yourself withdrawing from seeing people and doing things you normally enjoy, this could be a sign of prenatal depression or another mood disorder. It can occur at any time during pregnancy, but it is most commonly experienced during the first and third trimesters.

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What are The Symptoms of Prenatal Depression?

Signs and symptoms of prenatal depression can vary from person to person but common symptoms can include:

  • Persistent or extreme sadness, hopelessness or irritability
  • Loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Changes in appetite, either overeating or under-eating
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Mood changes and low mood
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicidal thoughts

What To Do if You Think You’re Suffering From Prenatal Depression

If you suspect you are experiencing prenatal depression during pregnancy, the first step is to talk to your GP or midwife as soon as possible. They can evaluate your signs and symptoms and determine the best course of treatment if prenatal depression is diagnosed. 

It is important to seek help as soon as possible, as research suggests that untreated depression and mental illness during pregnancy can have negative effects on both you and your baby if your symptoms aren’t brought under control.

In addition to seeking professional help, it is important to take care of yourself and acknowledge your feelings. The NHS also recommends a number of self-help tips that can help improve your mood. 

These include:

  • Talking about your feelings to a friend, family member, GP or midwife for practical and emotional support
  • Trying calming breathing exercises or relaxation techniques if you feel overwhelmed
  • Increasing physical activity levels if you can as it can improve your mood and help you sleep
  • Attending antenatal classes to meet other pregnant people, or an emotional support group
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Treatment Options for Prenatal Depression

Treatment for depression during pregnancy may include a combination of medication and therapy, depending on what your GP determines is the best treatment for your specific symptoms. Antidepressants may be prescribed as a medication to treat depression, but they should be carefully considered and monitored by your GP, as some medication can have risks during pregnancy. 

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that can be effective as a treatment for depression and anxiety. CBT from a mental health professional can help individuals identify negative thought patterns and develop coping strategies to manage their symptoms.

When you speak to them, your doctor can explain the risks and the benefits of any medication, and will help you decide which treatment is best for you and your baby. Whether it's therapy or medication, it's important to listen to your doctor's advice.

Risk Factors For Antenatal Depression

There are a number of environmental factors that can put pregnant women at a higher risk of developing prenatal or antenatal depression.

Risk factors for antenatal depression in pregnancy include:

  • Prior depression- this can make you more likely to experience depression during pregnancy or other stressful times
  • Life stress- most women find pregnancy stressful to some degree, but other factors or stressful situations happening alongside pregnancy can increase the risk of antenatal depression
  • Lack of social support- where there is no or little support from family and friends, it's easy for pregnancy to become overwhelming to expecting mums

What is the Difference Between Prenatal and Postnatal Depression?

Prenatal depression and postnatal depression (also known as postpartum depression) share many of the same symptoms. However, postnatal depression occurs after childbirth and can also be accompanied by physical symptoms such as fatigue, difficulty bonding with the baby, and changes in appetite. 

Because of these physical symptoms and the problems of bonding with your baby, postnatal depression is often easier to spot and diagnose. With pregnancy being a difficult time for many people, it’s sometimes easy for the symptoms of prenatal depression to be mistaken for simply feeling down or having a difficult pregnancy.

If you’re still struggling with your mental health after your baby is born, you might be suffering from postnatal depression. See here for our guide on how to identify postnatal depression.
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