Depression is a mood disorder that manifests as a persistent feeling of sadness, lack of energy, and loss of interest in things you used to enjoy.
It can happen during pregnancy and make the journey more difficult for you and your developing baby.
Depression during pregnancy
Depression is common during pregnancy. It affects about 1 in 10 pregnant women.
Nobody knows why depression happens, but evidence suggests that it is due to the hormonal changes and the stress that comes with pregnancy.
Women who have had depression in the past or were living with depression before getting pregnant are likely to have the symptoms return or get worse during pregnancy.
Some of the factors that may trigger depression during pregnancy include:
- Life stress
- Poor social support
- Unintended pregnancy
- First pregnancy
- Violence in the relationship
- Sleep problems
What are the signs and symptoms of depression?
The symptoms of depression often appear like normal mood swings. But when such mood changes are persistent, you may have depression. Generally, the symptoms of depression include:
- Low mood most of the day on most days of the week
- Low energy or feeling exhausted
- Lack of interest in work or other activities
- Sleeping more than normal or having trouble sleeping
- Loss of appetite, losing weight, or eating too much and gaining weight
- Feeling guilty, hopeless, or worthless
- Having trouble paying attention, concentrating, or making decisions
- Thinking about death or suicide
How does depression affect a pregnancy
If you leave depression untreated during pregnancy, you may have trouble taking care of yourself and may not eat healthfully or get enough rest. If you have severe depression, you may be at risk of harming yourself. Moreover, having untreated depression during pregnancy also raises your risk of postpartum depression.
Apart from the problems for yourself, untreated depression during pregnancy can increase the risk of problems for the baby, such as the following:
- The baby’s development could get affected
- There may be health complications after birth
- The child may have emotional and behavioral problems when they grow up
How is depression treated during pregnancy?
The available treatments for depression include:
- Counseling: This includes cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT)
- Support groups: These are groups of people who meet together or go online to share their feelings and experiences about certain topics. You may ask your therapist to help you find a support group or look for them online
- Medications: When necessary, doctors prescribe medicines called antidepressants. They may prescribe one medicine or a combination of medicines. Don’t start or stop taking any medicine for depression that is not prescribed by your doctor
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT): When drugs fail, a psychiatrist may recommend this treatment. It involves passing electric currents through the brain to restore the balance of neurochemicals in the brain. This treatment is considered safe to use during pregnancy
You and your doctor will decide the treatment that is suitable for you. It may be a combination of treatments instead of just one.
How safe is antidepressants during pregnancy
Growing evidence suggests that many available antidepressant medicines are relatively safe for treating depression during pregnancy — they have little or no risk of harming your baby. However, the long-term effects have not been determined. Your doctor will explain the risks/benefits to you before prescribing any antidepressant.
Thank you note
This article about depression during pregnancy was made in collaboration and with the support of the Pranaiya & Arthur Magoffin Foundation — Better Well-Being for Parent & Baby.
Ketsupa Jirakarn (Mental health specialist) (1 August 2022)