We Know About Postpartum Depression, But What Do You Do If You Have Prenatal Depression?

Pregnancy and motherhood should be the most magical, exciting time of your life, right? Even with a crazy influx of hormones, mood swings, cravings, discomfort, and no sleep, you still feel giddy at the thought of meeting your little one.

By Gwen Farrell3 min read
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Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re scared, or constantly anxious, or plagued by intrusive thoughts that just won’t seem to leave you alone. Maybe they’re so obsessive and relentless they cause even more stress and prevent sleep altogether.

That was me. In my third trimester, I would look at my husband asleep next to me at night and be plagued by terrifying what if’s and hypotheticals that gripped me so harshly I couldn’t fall asleep. What if something happened to him? What if he’s sick and we don’t know it? What will happen to us when he’s gone? I should have been filled with joy at the prospect of meeting my baby, and I was. But throughout pregnancy, I couldn’t help but struggle with depression and anxiety. We know all about postpartum depression, but what do you do if you have prenatal depression?

You Can Be Depressed During Pregnancy

We prepare religiously for the possibility of postpartum depression and anxiety once we’ve delivered our babies. But we definitely aren’t addressing the potential of prenatal or perinatal depression as well as we could be.

Prenatal depression is experienced by expecting moms during their pregnancies. However, as many of us know, pre or postpartum depression isn’t only depression, but shame, embarrassment, anxiety, distrust, worry, anger, apathy, uneasiness, apprehension, and hesitancy, even regarding the smallest daily tasks. Prenatal depression can result in loss of sleep or changes in sleep, and changes in eating, fatigue, and in extreme cases, self-harm or desire to harm others. One study estimates that 13%, or 1 in 7 pregnant women, experience prenatal depression.

13%, or 1 in 7 pregnant women, experience prenatal depression.

While there are certain risk factors that make pregnant women susceptible to experiencing prenatal depression – like a history of domestic violence, an unplanned pregnancy, single motherhood, family history of mental health issues, and other stress-inducing triggers – even if you don’t fit into those risk factors, you still might experience it. 

Destigmatizing Depression and Motherhood

Talking about mental health issues is one of the best ways to destigmatize them, and for women specifically, little else is more stigmatized than motherhood and depression. From the outside looking in, this makes sense. Even if a mom isn’t in a great marriage or socioeconomic position, she still has her children, right? Pregnancy is one of the most important periods in a woman’s life, and it seems crazy to think she could be depressed. 

If we take a look at the world around us, though, it doesn’t seem so crazy after all. Many moms might be apprehensive about bringing more children into uncertain times, with rising inflation and political tensions flaring at every turn. Everything costs more, including basic necessities, and it doesn’t help when people who are militantly childless call parents “selfish” for wanting children and growing their families.

Pile this on top of job or employment concerns, personal or family issues, and potential health worries, and it’s no wonder that we can experience anxiety just as easily during our pregnancies as we can after them. It’s important to note here that prenatal depression doesn’t mean we’re failures as women or as moms. Depression is a mental health issue and a medical condition, and shouldn’t be looked at as a personal flaw.

At the same time, we shouldn’t look at our children as liabilities or as the cause of our issues. Children are the remedy to any worries we have about our culture, not the cause, and bringing more into our lives is how we guarantee our legacy, build our communities, and construct a better world.

Treatment and Getting Help

With both prenatal depression and postpartum depression, getting help is critical to not only your health, but your baby’s as well. Prenatal depression can motivate a lack of desire to take care of yourself, whether it’s physically, mentally, or emotionally. What starts as missing one doctor’s appointment might turn into a habit, which might lead to other unhealthy behaviors. Any stress during pregnancy is also affecting your baby, and not taking care of yourself with a good diet and proper sleep is impacting them as much as it impacts you.

Depression and anxiety thrive in secrecy and silence, so make your husband or a family member aware of your feelings.

Don’t wait until after your baby’s here to mention these feelings to your healthcare provider. It’s also crucial to make your husband or a family member aware of the situation as well. Depression and anxiety will only thrive in secrecy and silence, and it doesn’t make you less of a mother or a woman to confide in someone. If anything, keeping these problems to yourself only worsens them, though it’s possible to get help at any time. 

A doctor might prescribe an antidepressant or form of therapy to help, which could be the best solution for you. However, no treatment will really be effective if you’re neglecting your basic, essential needs: a good amount of sleep and proper nutrition for both you and your baby. With a doctor’s approval, you could also engage in some light or pregnancy-safe exercise, or take a walk each day. Also, keep in mind to get enough sunlight and vitamin D each day (which many pregnant women lack) and stay in close contact with your circle. Whether it’s family or friends, don’t distance yourself from your loved ones. A social circle is just as key to good mental health as diet and exercise, and isolation will only increase your anxiety.

Closing Thoughts

It’s just as easy to become anxious and depressed during pregnancy as it is to experience it postpartum. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom. It means you’re human like everyone else, and the very best thing you can do for your baby’s health and your own wellbeing is to take your mental state seriously and take the appropriate action to help yourself. 

Depression often feels like a hole we sink deeper and deeper into. But no matter what, it’s still possible to experience the profound love and joy your child will bring when they arrive, and every woman and mother deserves that feeling.

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