Postnatal (or Postpartum) Depression, often called the “baby blues”, is a generally well-publicized and well-understood depressive condition that can affect new mothers at any time during the first year of motherhood.
Most expectant mothers are made aware of this potentially dangerous condition by their medical provider. And, because Postnatal Depression is so well accepted in today’s society, many expectant mothers also hear about it through friends, community groups, and even the media.
However, there is another equally troubling condition that has been widely unknown, misunderstood, and kept “underground.”. It’s called Antenatal (or Prenatal) Depression and it is depression suffered DURING pregnancy.
Antenatal Depression affects up to 15 percent of expectant women. And, it is only within the last 15-20 years that prenatal depression was even linked to pregnancy. Pregnant women were typically told that their symptoms were “just hormones.”
What’s more, recent studies have shown that more than 50% of women who develop Postnatal Depression suffered from Antenatal Depression.
In other words, the postpartum depression was actually an escalation of the depression suffered during pregnancy. Therefore, dealing with the issue during pregnancy would greatly reduce the risks after giving birth.
Also, depression during pregnancy is not JUST a risk for the mother. The chances of the baby having negative outcomes (such as low birth weight) are greatly increased in situations of prenatal depression.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF PRENATAL DEPRESSION?
Most women believe pregnancy should be a happy time that’s full of excitement and joyous anticipation. But for women who develop Antenatal Depression, nothing could be further from reality. Instead, for many women, it turns into months of anxiety and despair.
Here are some common symptoms to be aware of:
– Chronic anxiety
– 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
– Fear to seek help
WHY DOES IT DEVELOP?
Generally speaking, the causes can be broken down into four main categories:
1) Physical Causes
Let’s face it, pregnancy is hard on the body. There is the weight gain, the swelling, the bladder pain, the emotions that come with looking different, the dizziness, and the nausea. To make matters worse, the lungs and heart are doing more work and the joints are carrying more of a burden, which often leads to feelings of exhaustion.. Plus, there are the (very real) hormonal changes.
2) Emotional Causes
First and foremost, there are very profound emotional implications that come with bringing new life into the world. First time pregnancy involves a complete change in lifestyle and self-identity. And for those that are already mothers, having another child can bring fear and anxiety about coping with a larger family dynamic. Prior traumatic events like a miscarriage or stillbirth can also add another level of anxiety to a current pregnancy.
Beyond those major emotional issues, the majority of prenatal depression cases include a degree of anxiety. It can vary, but some common anxieties revolve around fear of a partner leaving, fear of not being a good mother, fear of the birth, fear that something is wrong with the baby, or simply a feeling of “going crazy.”
3) Societal Causes
Additionally, there can be societal reasons that contribute to Antenatal Depression. For example, since prenatal depression is just beginning to be recognized, prior parents don’t often have much sympathy for the issue. Or, because families are more likely to be spread out than in the past, a lot of mothers-to-be feel like they’re isolated and on their own.
Plus, there is more pressure than ever on women in today’s society. Many are under pressure to succeed with a full time career AND take great care of themselves and their families. And, the financial costs associated with having (and then raising) a child can also add stress.
4) Prior History
Additionally, ALL women with history of mood or anxiety disorders are at increased risk and should have increased monitoring.
WHAT ARE THE TREATMENTS?
There are a variety of treatments available. The key is to speak with a professional who understands prenatal mental health. Specifically, seek out a “Reproductive Psychiatrist.”
Treatments range from lifestyle changes to talk therapy to various medicinal options. While there are risks to being on medicine during pregnancy, they’re often overstated or based on questionable science. A Reproductive Psychiatrist can help an expectant mother understand the risks of being on certain medicines versus the risks of NOT getting effective treatment. From there, you can work in concert to come up with a plan that is best for you and the baby.
NOTE: Dr. Amanda Itzkoff is a member of the American Society of
Reproductive Medicine and a qualified Reproductive Psychiatrist.
I would be happy to help you locate a similarly qualified professional in your area!
This is a very important topic for expectant mothers to understand. It is vital that expectant moms and their doctors gain awareness of Antenatal Depression and that expectant moms speak with a qualified specialist if experiencing symptoms OR if you’re in a high-risk group.
For more information on the issue of Antenatal Depression, please contact our office at firstname.lastname@example.org. And, if you feel you could use additional help, please contact our office at 917-609-4990 to arrange a consultation.
Dr. Amanda Itzkoff