Antenatal depression is surprisingly common yet not much is known about it.
Pregnancy is a time when the world expects you to be a cheery person – blooming with good health and optimism (despite morning sickness and other problems). However, according to a study carried out in 2001 by Dr Jonathan Evans at Bristol University, around ten per cent of women experience some form of depression during pregnancy.
No one knows for definite why some women get it and others don’t. Hormones certainly can play a role – most women do experience mood swings during their nine months but some are more affected by these than others. If you are having problems with your partner in adjusting as a couple towards the pregnancy, this could also be making you feel low. Other factors can also contribute, including:
- A history of depression: If depression is something that has affected you or a close family member before you may be more likely to suffer from it during pregnancy.
- Stress: Any major life events that occur during your pregnancy, ie new home, death of a loved one, new job, etc, can all have a significant effect on your mood.
- Pregnancy problems: If you have had a bad time physically during the pregnancy, eg through bad morning sickness or back pain, this can bring you down emotionally.
- Infertility or miscarriage: if you have had difficulty conceiving or have lost a baby in the past, worries about your current pregnancy can cause anxiety and depression.
- Abuse: if you have suffered from any form of abuse in the past – emotional, physical, sexual or verbal – pregnancy could prove to be a very upsetting time for you. Your body undergoes changes that you cannot control and feelings of helplessness might reflect the same ones you had in your past.
Health visitor Ann Girling is very aware of the impact of antenatal depression on pregnant women. ‘As a health visitor I am only too aware of antenatal depression. The numbers of women suffering from it are the same as those suffering from postnatal depression but these are not always the same women. Sadly, it is not as easy to identify as postnatal depression simply because, as health visitors, there are not the resources in many areas to visit all antenatal women, despite recommendations from the government for us to do so. This would be an excellent time to make contact with prospective parents (dads too) and build relationships before the baby comes along. It is clearly an opportunity to identify depression or at least to talk about feelings.’
As we said above, most women have mood swings during pregnancy and shout or cry at their partner. This is perfectly normal! However, if you are constantly feeling down, angry, anxious, etc, this may be more than a temporary blip and might need more careful attention.
Symptoms of antenatal depression, indeed all types of depression, include:
- An inability to concentrate
- Extreme irritability with others and yourself
- Sleep problems – either too much or too little
- Eating problems – lack of appetite or eating too much for the sake of it
- Feeling tired all of the time
- Inability to enjoy anything anymore
- Constant sadness – crying more than is usual
- Agoraphobia – scared to leave the house or be in social situations
- Obsessive compulsive tendencies – eg washing your hands over and over again.
It is important that you speak to someone as soon as possible, whether or not you are certain you have antenatal depression. Unfortunately, depression does have a stigma attached to it which is why people are reluctant to talk to others about their experience. Yet depression is an illness that has symptoms and treatments like many others. People do not choose to be depressed so do not feel a failure for seeking help.
Ann Girling stresses how important it is for women to seek help. ‘If you feel you are suffering from a low mood then you should talk to your midwife, GP, health visitor or someone you can trust.’ Your GP might be able to suggest other forms of help such as counselling. If your depression is severe they may suggest a course of antidepressants which will be safe to take during pregnancy.
Inevitably you will be worrying about whether antenatal depression will either just carry on or resume after the birth of your child. There is currently little evidence to suggest that this is the case. Often, the birth of a child will resolve any anxiety you will have experienced during pregnancy but, if not, there are good support systems in place to identify and help women with postnatal depression.
Where to next?
- To find out more about antenatal depression, visit www.positivelypregnant.co.uk