Like most people, you've probably heard of postnatal depression. It's a very common and very much talked about condition. Often dumbed down and known as the "baby blues", this serious mental and emotional state pops up in the media every now and then, with celebrities coming forward to discuss their battle and recovery. What isn't normally talked about is antenatal depression.
Antenatal depression is just as serious as postnatal depression and almost as common; while 14% of all new mothers are diagnosed with depression following the birth of a child, around 10% are diagnosed during pregnancy. In fact, research has found that anxiety levels in depressed women at 32 weeks of pregnancy are often higher than in postnatally depressed women.
Of course, the 10% statistic is likely to be much much more, and some research has suggested that up to 20% of all pregnant women could be affected. The reason more exact figures are unknown, and the reason why the condition is almost unheard of, is that we live in a society not only where we constantly strive to be "better" than our friends and enemies by concealing the less appealing aspects of our lives, but also where we're brought up to think that pregnancy is a "glowing" time. But guess what - as much as we love our unborn babies, not all of us love being pregnant! There, I've said it!
What Causes It?
Whether a pregnancy is planned or unplanned, the changes your body, your lifestyle and your mind will go through during those nine months, especially if it's your first baby, are intense. Raging hormones affect emotional stability and it's not unusual to find yourself sobbing on the kitchen floor when you realize you've run out of ice cream (believe me, I know).
Pregnancy symptoms can make the gestation period somewhat uncomfortable and sometimes downright painful and annoying. From morning sickness and aversions to your favorite comfort foods to tender breasts and aching hips, it's not a shock to find out that some women can begin to feel a bit low.
Lifestyles change as well. Social butterflys may find their daily glass of wine in the local pub replaced with a hot chocolate and an inability to stay awake past 8:30pm. Friendships may become strained and many women complain of a feeling of isolation.
Symptoms of Antenatal Depression
With your baby kicking you at all hours of the day, assembling the new crib and trying to figure out just how the pushchair folds down, it can be quite a challenge to think about anything except the baby and the pregnancy and you may notice you're unable to concentrate on your everyday tasks (if you've ever found your shoes in the fridge you'll know what I'm talking about).
Symptoms also include spontaneous and uncontrollable crying and feelings of stress, anxiety and a general low mood. Sleeping during pregnancy can be difficult at the best of times with trying to keep cool and keep your ever-expanding bump out of the way, but if you're finding you can't switch your brain off before bed, and have some of the others symptoms, it may be a warning sign of antenatal depression.
Symptoms are very similar to regular depression and can also incorporate over or under eating leading to extreme weight gain or even weight loss, both of which are dangerous during pregnancy, and a fear of leaving the house. Of course, if you have any suicidal feelings, even if all they are are thoughts, it is vital you seek help from your Doctor or other healthcare professional immediately.
Is There A Cure?
Antidepressants are generally not prescribed for pregnant women as the effects on the unborn baby are unknown. Whereas a 1999 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology concluded that maternal use of antidepressants "does not seem to carry any significant risk for the infant that is detectable during the newborn period", a later 2004 study found an increased risk of preterm births and low birth rates among women who had used the drugs.
Therefore, alternative treatments are often preferred. Exercise is thought to be very effective, as is regular counseling. Women complaining of agoraphobia and isolation are often encouraged to attend an antenatal class where they can socialize with other moms-to-be who are going through the same thing at the same time. After all, a problem shared is a problem halved, so they say.
Are There Risks For Mom & Baby?
If you experience antenatal depression, the chances are you will go on to have a happy and healthy baby and you'll forget all the low feelings once you hold your little bundle of joy for the first time and look into those big beautiful eyes. Some research has been conducted that suggests there are perhaps some risk factors associated with depression during pregnancy, but for every study that finds a link, there is a counteracting study which refutes the evidence.
For example, A 2002 study conducted in the United Kingdom found a link between maternal depression and behavioral problems in children, but a subsequent study just two years later concluded that there were "no differences in neonatal outcome between women with antenatal depressive disorders and/or anxiety disorders and healthy subjects".
A further example is a 2004 study in Obstetrics and Gynaecology which found that "planned cesarean delivery and epidural analgesia during labor were also significantly more common in women with antenatal depression and/or anxiety", whereas a study carried out in North Staffordshire in the UK stated that there was "no association between antenatal depression and Cesarean section or assisted delivery".
Clearly much more research into this is needed before we can draw definite conclusions about the risks. One thing we do know, however, is that antenatal depression does increase the risk of postnatal depression. So ladies, if you're feeling a bit down during pregnancy, don't suffer in silence. The condition is becoming more acknowledged and many Doctors and Midwives are being trained to recognize the signs and provide necessary help and assistance to those who need it. And don't forget, there's no shame, pregnancy isn't a dignified time and you're entitled to feel a bit fed up at times!