Depression And Anxiety During Pregnancy --Why It Happens And Who It Can Affect

Depression And Anxiety During Pregnancy -- Why It Happens And Who It Can Affect

Unless you have previously suffered from depression, one of the furthest things from your mind when you are hoping to get pregnant will be depression during pregnancy. Like each individual, each pregnancy is a unique experience, with plenty of women falling into the picture often painted in the media of glowing with health and love for the baby developing inside them. Of course even these women are experiencing reactions to the huge amount of changes happening in their bodies, however it may surprise you to know that various statistics state that somewhere between 10% to 20% of women will suffer from depression or extreme anxiety during pregnancy. 

Traditionally we have had a strong awareness of postpartum depression, and for many years experts mistakenly thought that during pregnancy womens' hormones protected them against a battle with depression, believing that the issue of depression was more likely to raise its head as the hormone levels plunged after the baby was born. However nowadays the opinions have shifted and there is a realization of what can happen between hormones and brain chemistry in the early stages of pregnancy. 

Why Depression And Anxiety Could Affect You During Pregnancy

Although there are certain groups of women who are at a higher risk than others, depression or some form of anxiety can affect some women surprisingly during pregnancy. Why is this? Very simply it is now known that as there is a rather sudden surge of hormone levels at the beginning of pregnancy, this can throw off brain chemistry which can lead to depression or anxiety. 

Many women dismiss it as they presume that this is part and parcel of the pregnancy journey, they were bound to feel moody, although they may feel they are getting more than they bargained for. Unfortunately this is a mistake as women going through this experience can end up feeling unsupported, low and as their emotional well-being goes out of balance, it also threatens their physical well-being. 

Did you know that anxious mothers-to-be can be more susceptible to premature birth? As much as 25% of women can develop some form of anxiety during pregnancy. Here are some of the risks that are associated with women who are either anxious or depressed: 

  • Labor can be more difficult
  • Baby may have a lower birth weight
  • Preterm births, which is the leading cause of infant disability and mortality in America
  • Baby may be more agitated
  • There may be difficulties in breastfeeding
  • There can be a higher chance of postpartum depression
  • The newborn may have a higher chance of developing learning disabilities or attention disorders in childhood 

It is important to be aware that both anxiety and depression during pregnancy are medical conditions. Therefore if you do feel on an emotional roller-coaster that is more than you expected, you should not feel that this is some blemish of your personality, and feel ashamed.  Instead you need to seek support from your medical caregivers and social support from the people in your life that you trust. 

Who Is At Higher Risk?

Women who have miscarried previously are at a higher risk. Going through a miscarriage, or more than one miscarriage, can have a huge toll on you in very deep ways. Although the last thing you want is to feel anxious or depressed, it is not surprising that you feel that way. You must seek the support that you deserve. 

Relationship difficulties don't just go away because you are pregnant. Of course many couples have the romantic hope that a baby on the way will help difficulties, but this is often only to plaster over the cracks. If your situation merits it go for couple counseling. If you feel the difficulties are irretrievable, then go for counseling yourself. Apart from the emotional turmoil of feeling sad and let down about your relationship, we are also conditioned to feel that the perfect family unit is a man, woman and baby. It can be difficult to accept that your family unit  may need to be somehow different, but don't forget that two happy parents co-operating are far better than too unhappy parents arguing. 

Those with a previous history or family history of depression are at a higher risk. This encompasses past depression as well as those who have a tendency to feel extremely anxious. Being aware of this is better, and you should let your caregiver know as early as possible. 

If you have been having fertility treatments you may also be in the higher risk category. You may feel stupid to start feeling anxious once you are pregnant, after being through a stressful fertility journey. Shouldn't you be delighted and grateful? However after all the stress you've been through it is not a big surprise that you can have a tendency towards anxiety or depression. You may also be living with a bigger fear than some other women about pregnancy loss. It is really important to consider counseling at this time. 

There are a variety of stressful life events that can have an impact at this time. Financial worries, death of someone close, relocation, job changes, to name but a few. Do not underestimate the power of stress to affect your brain chemistry at this time. Do not feel that you are not coping and that you are not "normal." Seek support, even if you feel your event is not as serious as that of someone else you know. Life events are personal and it is so important to give yourself permission to acknowledge that you need support. Remember it is much better to look back and see it as a learning experience in the future, than to go deeper into anxiety or depression, risking harm to both baby and you. 

Past abuse can rear its ugly head very easily at this time. You can feel very vulnerable and all types of past abuse can be triggered as the hormones and situation affect you. Your changing body in itself is a trigger to feeling the helplessness that you may have felt during abuse. You must seek help. The positive factor here is that when you do it may be more powerful than previous help, if you sought help before. You have the potential to heal. 

Unplanned pregnancies or being young or single can all increase the risk of anxiety or depression. 

If any of these scenarios have touched you, please get the support that you deserve. If you are lucky enough not to be feeling anxious or depressed, then try to keep the awareness that other women are not so lucky, and support someone if you have the opportunity to do so. 

Jackie is a trained hypnotherapist and auricular acupuncturist, who specializes in writing on health issues, especially those which affect women. This article has been written in partnership with Merrion Fetal Health, a center of excellence for ultrasound pregnancy scans in Dublin, Ireland. 


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