'Depression' is often used to describe the everyday feelings of low mood that affect everyone at some point in time - being fed up or sad is a normal reaction to experiences that are upsetting, stressful or difficult. These are emotions which usually pass.
However, someone who suffers from depression is not just 'sad' or 'upset'. They have an illness which means that intense feelings of persistent sadness, helplessness and hopelessness are also coupled with physical effects such as sleeplessness, a loss of energy, or physical aches and pains.
For many families, pregnancy is a time of great joy as prospective parents and siblings look forward to the new arrival. It's a time to make space for the new baby, choose names, and wait for the new family member to make an appearance.
For some expectant mothers however, pregnancy can be a time of worry, stress and depression. Research indicates that mothers who are already caring for young children are particularly vulnerable to depression in pregnancy, and it's important that health professionals and family members can spot the signs to ensure that help and support is put in place when required.
Being pregnant is a significant psychological, as well as physiological event, and the additional stresses caused by being pregnant can leave women struggling to cope with the extra demands that are put upon them.
Pregnancy can put a strain on some relationships and increase the risk of domestic violence, whilst women who live in poverty or are single parents with a large number of children already may have little enthusiasm for another pregnancy.
There are no distinctive symptoms of depression; it is a condition that can manifest itself in a number of ways. It affects people both physically and emotionally and can prompt behavioural changes.
Pregnant women with depression may exhibit some of the following symptoms:
Prenatal depression (also called antenatal depression) can be caused by several factors.
Pregnancy-related steroids have been linked in some research, to the onset of depression, whilst other women might experience an impact when they stop taking pre-existing medications for depression due to concerns about harming the baby.
Where there is a family history of depression, that can be a factor, as is experiencing stressful life events including caring for an elderly relative, work or relationship problems. Hormonal fluctuations and extreme tiredness can also trigger episodes.
Women can also be concerned about their ability to cope with motherhood or have worries about re-establishing their career after the baby has been born. Some expectant mothers may feel depressed as they feel less attractive or worry about the lack of free time they will have after the birth.
The key point for family members who may see a pregnant relative struggling is that depression in pregnancy manifests itself in many ways and can appear at any point in the pregnancy. Knowing how to offer support and seek help is essential.
Women suffering with depression during pregnancy should see their doctor, especially if the symptoms are becoming more intense. Doctors can test for and diagnose depression and refer to a specialist mental health professional when appropriate. GPs will understand the feelings of embarrassment or shame that can accompany depression during pregnancy.
Many women worry about how people will view them if they are not blissfully happy throughout pregnancy, but doctors will also maintain confidentiality. For expectant mothers, it's important to realise that being depressed won't make them an unfit mother and help is available.
Treatments can include various forms of therapy delivered by professionals such as psychologists and therapist or a doctor prescribing anti-depressant medicines. It's important to seek treatment as untreated depression during pregnancy can be harmful to both mother and baby. It can cause problems during later stages of pregnancy or delivery, lead to babies having low birth weight or even premature birth.
There are some steps that woman can take to try and avoid falling into depression during pregnancy:
For more information on prenatal depression, Mind UK has a helpful section on its website, or contact your local GP for advice.