Lots of people have heard of postnatal depression which is experienced after having a baby, but antenatal depression is often not talked about quite so much. Here we take a look at what antenatal depression is, how it affects women and what you can do about it.
For many women, pregnancy is a rollercoaster experience. There are so many changes happening to your body – and soon to your life – and there are elements that are both good and bad. But whilst some women find themselves easing into pregnancy feeling happy, for others it’s not such a good experience and they find themselves descending into depression.
What is Antenatal Depression?Antenatal depression is much more than pregnancy blues or just feeling down. It’s normal for women to have mood swings when they’re pregnant, but antenatal depression is much more than this. Like other forms of depression, it’s characterised by constant sadness, and inability to enjoy anything, feeling tired all the time, anxiety, irritability, problems sleeping (either not sleeping at all or sleeping much more than normal) and an inability to concentrate. Some people may also have changes with their appetite, either losing their appetite or wanting to eat too much, and may experience agoraphobia or obsessive compulsive tendencies.
There was a time when antenatal depression wasn’t recognised at all, but thankfully recognition is improving now. In fact, a study conducted by researchers from Bristol University in 2001 found that 10% of women experience antenatal depression to some degree whilst they’re pregnant.
What Causes Antenatal Depression?The exact causes of antenatal depression are unclear, although there are likely to be a number of factors at play. The changing array of pregnancy hormones can be involved, but it also seems to be more likely to occur if you have a history of depression in your family or if you’ve experienced depression on another occasion. It’s also influenced by having bad experiences during pregnancy, such as having acute morning sickness or severe back pain, as this can affect you emotionally.
Experiencing stress during pregnancy, for example from other events going on in your life at the same time, may also play a part. So can a previous encounter with infertility or miscarriage, as if you’ve had difficulty conceiving or have lost a baby before, it’s easy to become extra worried and anxious that everything will be alright this time around.
What to DoIf this sounds like you, or someone you know, then it’s important to see a doctor, midwife or health visitor and discuss the symptoms with them. Don’t be afraid to tell them how you feel – depression isn’t something to be embarrassed about – and try and share your thoughts with your partner, family or friends too, as a good support network helps. Many women benefit from receiving counselling or from trying cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), but there are some antidepressants that are suitable for pregnant women to take.
Antenatal depression is a valid illness and can be hard to cope with, especially when you’re also coping with all the changes going on in the course of your pregnancy. Don’t suffer alone or try and muddle through on your own; get the help and support you need, and things should slowly improve.
One positive point to bear in mind is that having antenatal depression doesn’t automatically mean you’ll have postnatal depression too. The Bristol study results revealed no clear association between the two sorts of depression.