Ask a Midwife: Is it normal to get depression during pregnancy?

You may have heard about postnatal depression, but 12% of women suffer with depression and anxiety during pregnancy too.

5 min read

Ask a Midwife: Is it normal to get depression during pregnancy?

You may have heard about postnatal depression, but 12% of women suffer with depression and anxiety during pregnancy too.

5 min read

Ask the midwives about depression during pregnancy

Practising midwives Sonya, Carey and Lorna run education company Brilliant Birth Company in Mid Sussex. They have helped thousands of women through their pregnancy and birth. Here we ask them for their expert help on depression during pregnancy.

What is antenatal depression?

Antenatal depression, also called prenatal or perinatal depression, is a condition when women feel low, depressed and/or anxious during their pregnancy. “You may find that you feel great one minute, then angry or weepy the next,” says Sonya. “While pregnancy is an emotional time, with many mixed feelings, some women find it difficult to cope and that’s when you need to watch for the signs of depression.”

Why do some women have depression during pregnancy?

According to Carey, the full reasons why some women have perinatal depression or anxiety, and some women don’t, are not fully understood.

“It’s possible that some things come into play; having had a previous miscarriage (or several miscarriages) and having had a bad birth experience before can be factors, as can being pregnant unexpectedly – perhaps you hadn’t planned this baby.” says Carey.

Lorna adds: “If you have previously suffered from, and been treated for, depression, you may be more at risk. Your home life may also be a risk factor, as if you are on your own with no support network or have worries about money and where you and your baby will live, it’s very difficult to relax and enjoy your pregnancy.”

You don’t have to be perfect

There are a number of other factors discussed by the midwives. You may have problems that go back years. A disruptive childhood, poor self-esteem and other factors can mean that you don’t feel confident being pregnant.

You may also feel the pressure to be picture perfect, like the images we all see of impossibly glamorous new mums in magazines. What we don’t see is the days when things aren’t so glamorous, and it can be difficult not to compare ourselves with others.

What are the signs and symptoms of depression during pregnancy?

Carey says: “There are many symptoms that can kick in when you are suffering from antenatal depression. You may not have all of them but having a few of these together is an indication that you should get some help.”

Some of the things you might be feeling include:

  • You may feel detached from the pregnancy and hopeless about the future

  • You may worry all the time about your baby or giving birth

  • You may feel tired and lethargic, or numb

  • You may feel overly emotional, tearful, angry, or touchy

  • You may be anxious about various things, either about the pregnancy, the baby or other subjects

  • You can’t focus on anything

  • You may have feelings of self-harm

  • You may have no interest in having sex

  • You may not be sleeping well.

Is it normal for an expectant mother to face depression?

“This is a condition that affects around 12 percent of women, so you’re not alone,” says Sonya.

How can my pregnancy partner help me if I have depression?

Your partner (or family member or close friend) knows you best, so make sure you ask them for help when you’re feeling low. This can be for practical help, so you can rest, or go to a yoga class, counselling or try some alternative therapies. It can also be to check in with you to see how you are feeling.

“Ask them to help you pinpoint the triggers for increased stress and anxiety,” advises Lorna. “Sometimes, just talking through your feelings can help you rationalise and work these through.”

Where can I get help?

The NHS website has some good resources for you to find help. You’ll find pages there talking you through what depression is and where to go in the first instance. It is extremely important that you do not stop any antidepressant medication that you may already be on. Instead seek advice from your GP.

Carey suggests that you “Speak to your midwife if you are concerned about your mental health and don’t feel you can’t talk about it – the sooner you seek help, the better.”

It’s important not to be embarrassed, as you are not alone. Antenatal depression is very common and your GP, midwife and hospital doctors are used to supporting women with mental health concerns or worries. Joining an antenatal class will also help, as you’ll be able to talk to other women in the same situation. Organisations like PANDAS can also help.

What help is on offer?

You may be referred for one or more of the following therapies:

  • Counselling or talking therapy. If you want private counselling, look for an accredited therapist with the BACP, BPC or UKCP. Otherwise the NHS caters for this via your GP and you can refer yourself for therapy using IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) - you don’t need to ask for a referral from a medical practitioner.

  • Antidepressant medication. There are drugs that are safe during pregnancy.

  • A mixture of the two.

Some tips for reducing stress and anxiety during pregnancy

When trying to reduce your stress and anxiety during pregnancy, try some of the following:

  • Try not to take on extra work right now – learn the benefits of saying ‘no’.

  • Avoid unhelpful substances – that includes alcohol, tobacco, recreational drugs and caffeine. Also, avoid herbal remedies as many are not safe in pregnancy.

  • Ask for help – not just with your emotions but with practical things too. If you can’t face shopping for baby gear, enlist a friend.

  • Take some time out just for you and go for a walk or swim or join a pregnancy yoga class. Exercise is very helpful for your mental health.

  • Take up mindfulness and meditation – this might be tied in with a hypnobirthing course too. Look online for good mindfulness podcasts and eBooks.

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