It’s a time when everyone expects you to be ‘glowing’, yet if you’re feeling low, more stressed and anxious than you do happy, you could be suffering from prenatal depression.
While most of us have heard of postnatal depression affecting a mum’s ability to care for her newborn, you may not realise that depression in pregnancy is actually more common than the postnatal kind. Also known as antenatal depression, it’s important to remember you are not alone, with one in ten women suffering from the condition at some point during their pregnancy.
What is 'normal'?
Professor Louise Howard, Consultant Perinatal Psychiatrist and Professor of Women’s Mental Health at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London says: “There is the expectation that a woman’s experience of pregnancy should always be joyous, but the truth is that pregnant women often put emotional and mental pressure on themselves to feel happy all the time. It is important for pregnant women not to feel embarrassed or guilty about experiencing the emotions they didn’t expect during pregnancy. They deserve compassionate support and should speak to a midwife, health visitor or GP for professional advice.”
What are the signs and symptoms of prenatal depression?
Many women may dismiss their feelings as normal hormone changes as they adjust to the changes happening in their body, yet this is not always the case. Signs to look for include:
Feeling anxious: Of course, worrying about how you’ll care for your new arrival is normal, but if your anxiety is taking over it may be a sign that you should seek help.
Moodiness: Yes, hormones will be playing havoc with your mood during your pregnancy, yet if you are feeling constantly bad-tempered with those around you, or you can’t stop crying there may be more going on.
Fatigue: Are you tired all the time? Do you have difficulty concentrating? Do you lie awake at night feeling anxious? All these are signs of depression and not just in pregnancy.
Lack of interest: One of the key signs of prenatal depression is feeling no excitement or joy about your new arrival, or anything you’d normally be interested in. Nothing feels fun anymore. You may also find you have no appetite.
Negative thoughts: If you are feeling consumed with negative thoughts you cannot seem to shake, maybe even about harming yourself or your baby, then you need to speak to your midwife or GP urgently.
Not feeling attached to your growing baby: A common symptom listed by women who suffer from prenatal depression. New mum Juliette O’Donnell told Mother and Baby: ‘My pregnancy blues were down to being scared of how my life was changing and not wanting to lose my identity. I came to accept that I’d never be the girl who loved being pregnant, that perhaps the ‘glow’ wasn’t meant to be. But when my baby came, I found motherhood was, for me, easier than I’d imagined. I had a beautiful baby girl and we bonded quickly; four hours’ sleep and constant breastfeeding was a breeze compared to the pregnancy.
What are the causes of prenatal depression?
You are often thought to be more at risk if you have a previous history of depression or mental illness, but this isn’t always the case. Like other forms of depression, prenatal depression is caused by a hormone imbalance during pregnancy. Other contributing factors include morning sickness, anxieties over becoming a mother and worrying about how your relationship or finances will cope with your new arrival.
What should I do if I think I’m suffering from prenatal depression?
'If you feel down at least every other day for a couple of weeks, see your GP to rule out pregnancy depression,’ says psychologist Sandra Wheatley. Your GP or midwife will be able to diagnose your symptoms and help you get the support you need.
How will prenatal depression be treated?
Treating your prenatal depression can help make your pregnancy a happier nine months. There are various treatments on offer, so it’s important you talk to your midwife or GP to find one that will work for you. Some people respond to counselling and psychotherapy, talking through worries and problems to a therapist. Others prefer to take prescribed antidepressants which can help ease the symptoms of prenatal depression. It’s also worth noting, there are plenty of peer support groups out there that allow you to meet other mums-to-be going through the same thing.
Self-care for prenatal depression
Rest and focus on your baby: take time out to do something you enjoy, that improves your mood or helps you to relax.
Talk about how you feel with someone: a family member, a friend or a health professional.
Eat well: make sure you focus on eating a variety of different foods and plenty of fruit and veg to get all the nutrients you and your baby need.
Prenatal exercise: If you can, try and take part in some pregnancy exercise classes.
Make a wellbeing plan: Take some time to think about and prepare for the birth and life with a new baby (you’ll be able to find a helpful Wellbeing Plan here).
Don't be a super-woman: Rest and try to get regular sleep.
Ask for help: Seek expert advice for worrying matters such as money, housing, employment and relationships.
Where can I go for support and advice?
As well as your GP and midwife, if you are suffering from prenatal depression or simply need someone to talk to, there are plenty of resources out there to help:
Friends and family: Call on the people who know you best. Even if it is just sharing your thoughts over a cup of tea, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Charities: There are a number of amazing charities out there that help raise awareness and support for women suffering from prenatal depression such as PANDAS (Pre and Postnatal Depression Advice and Support) and MIND.
Phone helplines: Many support organisations have phone (and sometimes text) lines, which are a great place to start if you want to seek some anonymous advice. Whilst the people on the end of the phone aren’t health professionals, they have training and support and will be able to offer you advice. You can use the Hub of Hope to search for mental health charities in your local area.