Prenatal (Antenatal) Depression
‘At any one time during pregnancy one in every ten women will be depressed and around one in every thirty will be depressed in pregnancy and the postnatal period.’
– Dr Vivette Glover, Director of the foetal and neonatal stress and research centre.
It is only within the last twenty years that prenatal (antenatal) depression has been associated with pregnancy.
Prior to this, postnatal depression was the only ‘depression’ linked to pregnancy. Women who seek help for prenatal (antenatal) depression are often told it’s ‘just your hormones’. This offers very little help to the mum-to-be. Women have often described prenatal (antenatal) depression as, rather than being a joyful happy time full of excitement, a nine month tunnel of doom, anxiety and despair.
Common symptoms for prenatal/antenatal depression:
- Chronic anxiety
- Incessant crying
- Lack of energy
- Relationship worries: worrying their partner may leave once the baby is born
- Conflict with parents: pregnancy can often stir up emotions regarding their own up bringing
- Fear to seek help
The causes can often be broken down into three main areas; physical, emotional and social.
If you imagine waking up having gained two to three stone in weight, your breasts swollen to the size of two painful melons.
You get up in a rush, leap out of bed, only to collapse to the floor overcome by dizziness and nausea.
Your bladder feels like it’s going to explode and after going to the bathroom, it feels the same.
You look in your wardrobe for something to wear, only to be able to find a tatty old pair of leggings and an oversized jumper which you used for painting.
Walking downstairs becomes exhausting and you become out of breath because your lungs along with the rest of your internal organs are now sat in your ribcage.
Your heart is now working 40% harder and that’s not even starting to mention your hormone levels which let’s face it are through the ceiling.
This may sound like a nightmare, but this is the biological reality of pregnancy so is no wonder, for some women can cause depression.
During pregnancy the hormones oestrogen and progesterone rise in volume by 30-50 times. The immediate effects are the increased need to urinate, breasts swelling and ‘morning sickness’.
In pregnancy this ideally creates a sense of wellbeing or maternal ‘bloom’. However, in some pregnancies the placenta doesn’t produce enough of the hormone progesterone. This does not have any effect on the baby but can lead to feelings of depression in the women.
A side effect of hormone imbalance is nausea. For a considerable amount of women it is more than ‘morning sickness’, it lasts all day and sometimes for the full nine months. Permanently feeling sick can cause a lot of discomfort, exhausting and low.
Iron and zinc
Deficiencies in minerals such as iron and zinc have both been linked to depression. As pregnancy can cause such deficiencies in these key minerals, it is crucial that the diet is full of iron and zinc rich foods. Vitamin C is also essential as this aids the absorption of iron into the body.
None of us like gaining weight and yet in pregnancy we are expected to put on at least 2 stone and feel radiant about it. Weight gain can have a severe effect on a women confidence, leading to feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem.
As well as psychological effects of weight gain, it can also be extremely uncomfortable. By the last two months of the pregnancy simple tasks such as walking upstairs, driving the car and sleeping becomes a major challenge.
If you have suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth previously it is inevitable that any further pregnancies will be met with anxiety and fear. It isn’t just anxiety which can lead to depression; the pregnancy can stir emotions of loss and grief. It is hard to imagine the level of fear and grief which any one goes through after a miscarriage or stillbirth. It is important when in this situation the feelings are discussed with your midwife or G.P. who may recommend counselling.
Although the majority of cases of prenatal (antenatal) depression disappear with the birth of the baby, in one third of cases a mother goes on to suffer from postnatal depression. This highlights the importance a treating the depression during pregnancy for the sake of child and mother in the postnatal period.
Talk to your GP or midwife about how you are feeling, they will be able to assess whether you are suffering from prenatal depression. Your GP may recommend having counseling to help you come to terms with your emotions.