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Prenatal Depression

Depression is a serious illness that can interfere with everyday life. When women experience depression during pregnancy, it is called prenatal depression. Most women go through emotional ups and downs throughout pregnancy, and this is completely normal. But when feeling blue or sad for a few days becomes a regular thing and the sadness, anxiety and other negative emotions get in the way of everyday life, it might be depression.

Prenatal depression is common. About 13 percent (more than one in 10) of pregnant women and new mothers experience depression. There are some experts who believe the percentage may be quite a bit higher. Fortunately, prenatal depression can improve greatly with treatment.

Symptoms of depression

Many symptoms of depression can happen every once in a while and be considered normal. But if you experience at least three of the following symptoms for two weeks or more, talk with your health care provider about the possibility of treatment. You don’t have to deal with depression alone. There is help available to you.

  • mood swings
  • irritability
  • sadness, hopelessness or feeling overwhelmed
  • frequent crying spells or crying easily
  • a lack of energy or motivation
  • a desire to eat often or not feeling like eating at all
  • sleep problems, including sleeping too little or too much
  • difficulty focusing or making decisions
  • memory problems
  • feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy, or finding you no longer enjoy them when you do participate
  • withdrawing or wanting to withdraw from friends and family
  • headaches, body aches and pains, or stomach problems that seem different from morning sickness

When you visit your doctor, we recommend making a list of your symptoms and taking it with you to the office. Your doctor can evaluate to determine whether your symptoms are caused by depression or something else.

Treating prenatal depression

Normally, depression is treated with a combination of medication and talk therapy. However, during pregnancy, you and your doctor will have to weigh the potential risks of medication with the benefits. If it’s right for you, your doctor will prescribe anti-depressants to help correct the underlying cause of depression. And whether or not prescription drugs are an option for you, consider talk therapy with a social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist. If your insurance doesn’t cover mental health care, you may be able to find free or low-cost therapy options in your area. If you are having difficulty finding someone to help treat you, ask your health care provider for recommendations.

Risks of not treating depression

It’s important to take steps to treat your depression. If your depression is left untreated, it could get worse and could hurt both you and your baby. Untreated depression could lead to:

  • eating poorly
  • not gaining enough weight to provide adequate nutrition to your baby
  • you missing important prenatal visits
  • substance use that can have serious consequences for your baby
  • problems during pregnancy and delivery
  • premature birth or having a baby with low birth weight

Getting help

In addition to talking with your doctor, you may want to try some other things to help you feel better. For example:

  • Get quality sleep if you can.
  • Remember that you don’t have to be everything to everyone; give yourself permission to say no.
  • Ask your partner, your family and your friends for help.
  • Make time for yourself by doing things you enjoy.
  • Talk with other mothers who have been through the same thing.
  • Consider joining a support group to help you cope with your thoughts and feelings.
  • If you ever feel like you may harm yourself or your developing baby, call 911 or seek emergency help right away.

You’re not alone

We understand how difficult it can be to talk about depression — especially if you’re depressed. When you have no energy or are feeling sad all the time, it’s tough to even think about adding another thing to your “to do” list. But it’s important to talk with a professional if you think you may be depressed.