Updated: 2019, Feb 7

Is Depression Common During Pregnancy?

By - Reviewed by CHD Team
Depression During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is supposedly one of the happiest moments of a women’s life. But this is not always the case. According to the report released by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, up to 23% of women during pregnancy suffer from some form of depression. This article goes on to discuss the basic concepts of depression during pregnancy.

What is Depression in Pregnancy?

Depression is a clinical illness, specifically a mood disorder. Depression in pregnancy is just similar with clinical, ordinary depression. It is a result of ineffective, abnormal brain chemistry where certain chemicals in the brain are defectively altered or malfunction. Depression during pregnancy is aggravated by other factors which will be enumerated later in this article.

Why Pregnant Mother Feel Depress?

Depression during pregnancy is not a fallacy; it is a fact in which causes are many, varied and sometimes, complex. Depression during pregnancy can be due to any of the following factors:

  • History of depression
  • Pregnancy at younger age
  • Living alone
  • Poor family support or lack of support from spouse
  • Limited social support, interaction or activities
  • Number of children (mothers who have greater number of children are more vulnerable to depression)
  • Worry, ambivalent about pregnancy
  • Relationship problem, spouse trouble
  • History of pregnancy loss
  • Infertility treatment
  • Past experience of abuse or trauma
  • Consistent exposure to stress

How Common is Depression during Pregnancy?

Depression during pregnancy only comprises the minority, about 10% of pregnant women. A mood disorder, depression affects 1 in 4 pregnant mothers. Women who experience depression elicit feelings of anxiety, sadness and hopelessness alongside poor appetite and sleeping problems. It should be mentioned however that depression during pregnancy is a treatable condition, and there is a wide range of remedial measures available that can help mothers overcome it.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression During Pregnancy

In order to ascertain depression during pregnancy, a woman must experience 2 or more of the following symptoms for a period of 2 weeks or more:

  • Persistent feeling of sadness
  • Lack or poor concentration
  • Lack of sleep, poor sleep
  • Lack of interest in activities
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Hopelessness
  • Thinking of death
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling of worthlessness
  • Loss of appetite

Does Depression During Pregnancy Affect the Baby?

There is quite a little chance that depression takes toll on the health of the baby. But one premise is clear: if not treated, depression can be a potential danger both to the mother and the baby. Among of the health consequences of depression to the baby are the following:

  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Developmental problems
  • Attention problems

Babies born from mothers with depression are also less active and more agitated. Meanwhile, depression has negative sequential effects to mother’s health namely poor nutrition, suicidal behavior and poor self-care.

Management and Treatment of Depression During Pregnancy

  • Regular Exercise: Study shows that regular exercise or physical activity can help boost positive mood hence, lower depression. This caused by the release of certain chemicals known as endorphins. Endorphins are ‘happy hormones’ that elevate mood. They also act as the body’s natural analgesics. Constant exercise also reduces stress and anxiety, and improves sleep.
  • Adequate Rest and Sleep: Clinical studies have established a clear link between lack of sleep and depression. Taking adequate sleep and rest can help lower depression and counteracts symptoms of depression including insomnia.
  • Nutrition: There is no specific diet for depression, but there are certain foods that can help improve symptoms of the mood disorder. Pregnant mothers who are feeling unrelenting anxiety and despair should consume diet that is rich in nutrients and free radicals or antioxidants. Additionally, they should take up complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains to increase serotonin activity which plays a role in depression. Further, protein sources such as poultry and soy products help increase level of tyrosine in the body which helps in boosting chemicals in the brain.
  • Acupuncture: Acupuncture has many well-known health benefits including easing depression during pregnancy. Acupuncture involves the use of tiny, thin needles designed to stimulate some points in the body that are believed to have blocked the flow of energy.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are not only for heart health but also for the brain. Omega 3 fatty acids are believed to boost positive mood and restore the structural integrity of brain cells. In a particular study, people who incorporate omega-3 fatty acids in their day-to-da diet are less like to suffer depression by 30%. Rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids that are safe to eat by pregnant mothers include tuna, anchovies, sardines, salmon, and lake trout. Avoid shark, swordfish and mackerel which are high mercury content. Farm-raised fish should also be avoided by pregnant mothers as they may contain high level of chemicals.
  • Herbs: Certain herbal plants can remedy depression. The most common herbal supplement for depression is St. John’s wort. This plant which bears yellow flower can be used as a natural treatment for mild depression, but not for severe form. However, for pregnant mothers, they have to take the herb with caution and talk to their doctor FIRST for safety purpose. The herbal plant may also interact with other drugs and decrease their efficiency.

Is Antidepressant Medications Safe for Pregnant Mothers?

Ostensibly, the drug of choice for depression during pregnancy is antidepressants. The most common prescribed class of drug for depression is the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs (e.g Prozac, Sertraline).

Medical scientists are casting doubts about the effects of antidepressant drugs to pregnant mothers or to women who want to become pregnant, most especially Paxil. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly recommends pregnant mothers to avoid taking SSRIs and other similar drugs unless needed substantially. In a clinical study finding in 2006, consumption of SSRI has been linked to increase risk of miscarriage during pregnancy. Intake of antidepressants has also been found to have adverse effects to babies such as low birth weight and prematurity. Babies from antidepressant drug-dependent mothers also tend to stay longer in NICU units and have difficulty adapting the world outside the womb.

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