Antenatal Depression

For many women pregnancy is an exciting and happy time.  And the majority of women will go through their pregnancies with very few worries.  However for some pregnancy can be an anxious period of time. Whether a pregnancy has been planned for or a surprise, it can still be very daunting, as the reality sets in!

Most people have heard of Postnatal Depression, yet still the awareness of the causes and symptoms could still be improved.  But very few have heard of Antenatal Depression and it seems to be even more unacceptable in society to be depressed in pregnancy, as there is this added pressure and expectation, that a pregnant woman should be 'blooming'!  At least when you are a new mum with a baby, you have an excuse to feel tired and a bit 'low'.  In this blog piece I want to make you aware of Antenatal Depression, the possible causes, the symptoms and how to get help. And my hope it that it will get you talking about it! There are many useful support services out there and I will list a few of them at the end of the post. I will be writing about Postnatal Depression in another blog post very soon.

It is thought that Antenatal Depression affects as many as one in ten women in their pregnancy. The hardest thing is detecting it, as many women and their family and friends will put their mood or anxieties down 'to hormones'.  And yes there can be some mood changes with hormones in pregnancy, but it is important to differentiate between a few tearful days here and there, from feeling depressed and anxious for long periods of time.

There are physical, emotional and social causes for Antenatal Depression.  

Physical

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. 

To add to the hormonal changes, a woman's body is changing too, they may be suffering from morning sickness which can be very debilitating, they are gaining weight and they are feeling tired and less able to continue with their normal activities. 

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. 

Emotional

As I mentioned before pregnancy in itself is daunting for any mum and whether it is a first or fourth baby, women do feel a certain amount of anxiety about the changing times ahead.  One of the common symptoms with Antenatal Depression is anxiety, women can feels overwhelmed by their anxieties and overcome with fear.  Women will find themselves worrying about what sort of mum they are going to be, whether their baby is going to be healthy, what if their partner leaves them, what if they can't cope and so many say they feel like they are going mad.  All of these feelings are scary enough if you can talk to someone, but because the awareness of this condition isn't out there, many women don't talk about their feelings and concerns and so the problem escalates.

For some women the feelings of anxiety are already there before they even fall pregnant, having already experienced the previous loss of a baby.  For these women pregnancy is an incredibly scary time and they can feel on edge for its entirety.  This anxiety can lead to the depression and also the feelings of loss and grief are reborn.

Social

One of the biggest social influences of Antenatal Depression, is the lack of awareness and support from family members.  This leads to women feeling inadequate with their feelings and unable to disclose them to anyone. The other issue facing many women is the lack of a family support network, as so many families live miles apart these days, it is much harder to find that close support and help.

On top of all of this women are playing a very different role in society now.  Many women have  a career and they are striving to work for as long as possible, so they can make the most of their maternity leave once the baby arrives.  This can be very stressful, working long hours and being pregnant can lead to exhaustion.  And there is very little time left for the much needed 'wind down' and relaxation time.  The other reason for working longer is the financial pressures of having a new baby, there seems to be so much to buy!  These small people can cost a fortune if you let them!

How to detect Antenatal Depression

Each woman with Antenatal Depression will feel different, but there are some symptoms to look out for.  And if you feel that you do not fit in the list below, but feel concerned, do not hesitate to contact your midwife or GP to have a chat.

What to look out for:

  • Chronic anxiety
  • Guilt
  • 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 
  • Isolation 
  • Fear to seek help

The first step if you have concerns is to talk to your family, midwife and GP.  They will be able to provide you with the much needed emotional support.  Your midwife or GP will be able to inform you of support networks near you or national ones such as PANDAS. They may suggest speaking to a counsellor to help work through your anxieties and emotions.  They are also likely to see you more often in pregnancy to provide you with extra support and monitor how you are feeling.

It can feel a very dark place to be, but you are not alone and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Some useful websites

www.pandasfoundation.org.uk
www.pndsupport.co.uk 
www.depression-in-pregnancy.org