Depression During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is often considered one of the happiest times in a woman’s life; after all, you are about to welcome a beautiful new member to your family. But pregnancy isn’t always such a happy time. It is often filled with stress and worry as well as numerous emotional and physical changes. As a result, many pregnant women develop depression during their pregnancies.

Depression can be very dangerous during pregnancy as it can compromise both your health and your baby’s health. However, there are a number of effective treatments available to help you overcome pregnancy depression.

What is Depression?
Depression is a mood disorder that causes you to feel extreme sadness. Many of us have felt a little bit blue at some point in our lives, but depression is much more intense: it causes an extreme dip in your mood that interferes with daily activities, like working, sleeping, and eating. Depression is a fairly common condition – it is thought to affect at least one in four women at some time in their live – but depression that occurs during pregnancy is of particular concern, because it can affect the health of both you and your baby.

How Common is Depression During Pregnancy?
Depression during pregnancy is actually much more common then many people realize. At one time, health care professionals thought that pregnant women couldn’t suffer from depression because of their pregnancy hormones. It was believed that these hormones protected against mood disorders like depression.

It is now known that the rapid rise in hormone levels during pregnancy is actually a very common trigger for depression. At least 20% of pregnant women experience some depressive symptoms during their pregnancies, while 10% of pregnant women develop full-blown clinical depression.

What Causes Depression During Pregnancy?
Depression is actually caused by a number of different factors. First and foremost, depression seems to be linked to a change in the levels of chemicals in the brain. These chemicals govern your moods, and when they become disrupted, this can lead to depression.

During pregnancy, the rapid change in your body’s hormones can trigger a change in the levels of these chemicals, resulting in depression. Depression can also be triggered by various emotional, psychological, or personal factors, including stressful life events, financial troubles, or a death in the family.

Who’s At Risk
Any pregnant woman can develop depression at some point throughout her pregnancy. However, certain factors do seem to put some pregnant women at more risk for the disorder. These risk factors include:

  • personal or family history of depression
  • relationship or personal difficulties
  • unplanned pregnancy
  • previous miscarriage or pregnancy loss
  • pregnancy complications
  • history of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse

Symptoms of Depression During Pregnancy
The main signs of depression are unrelenting feelings of sadness, guilt, and hopelessness. This sadness persists for more than two weeks and is accompanied by some of the following symptoms:

  • difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • weight loss or change in appetite
  • irritability or mood swings
  • constant fatigue
  • difficulty concentrating
  • unpredictable, uncharacteristic, or bizarre behavior
  • thoughts of self-harm or suicide

Possible Complications of Depression During Pregnancy
Depression can be a very dangerous disorder, particularly during pregnancy. Because depression can often drain your desire and energy, pregnant women with the disorder may not seek appropriate prenatal care. Depression during pregnancy may also increase the likelihood that you will abuse alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs during pregnancy. When it is most severe, depression can lead to self-harm or even suicide, causing the death of your baby.

According to recent studies, pregnant women with untreated depression are more likely to experience:

Treating Depression During Pregnancy
There are a variety of effective treatments for depression during pregnancy. Psychotherapy is one of the best depression treatments during pregnancy, because it is completely safe and healthy for both mom and baby. Psychotherapy works to find out the root cause of the depression and can help you deal with feelings of sadness, guilt, or worthlessness.

Medications called antidepressants can also be used to treat depression in pregnancy although you must consult with your health care provider before taking any antidepressant during pregnancy. Some antidepressants have been associated with risks of preterm labor or miscarriage and should not be taken during pregnancy. Two types of antidepressants have traditionally been used to treat depression during pregnancy: SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), including Zoloft, and Celexa; and TCAs (tricyclic antidepressants), including Pamelor, Tofranil, and Elavil.

However, recent studies have found that the use of SSRIs druing pregnancy can have serious health effects in newborns. In 2004, the FDA issued an alert for all SSRIs on the market, including Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Luvox and Celexa.

In 2006, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) found a link between SSRIs and an increased risk of fetal heart defects, as well as persistent pulmonary hypertension (PPHN) in newborns. Other birth defects associated with SSRIs include respiratory problems, low muscle tone, body rigidity, irritability and trouble eating.

However, the ACOG stresses that depression that is left untreated can also have serious health consequences for pregnant women in addition to the ones listed above, including low weight gain and an increased risk of alcohol and drug abuse, as well as an increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), which in turn can have negative effects on a newborn.

Pregnant women or women trying to become pregnant should always consult with their obstetrician and mental health specialist about their depression treatment and the effects of the anti-depression drugs they are taking on pregnancy.

Postpartum Depression
Sometimes, depression can manifest after the birth of your baby. Known as postpartum depression, this condition causes the same symptoms as depression during pregnancy causes. It is important to talk with your health care provider about an appropriate depression treatment.


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