Depression during pregnancy can cause critical risk to your baby
Antenatal depression is usually ignored. Recognise and prevent this condition to safeguard the mum-to-be
28-year-old Natasha Rao (name changed) had everything going right for her. She had a great job, married the man of her dreams and conceived when she wanted. But, instead of enjoying her pregnancy, Natasha often had periods of restlessness, severe insomnia and prolonged periods of low confidence.
“I felt hopeless and confused. Small incidents were enough to make me cry everyday. My mom would say ‘do this’, my mother-in-law would say ‘don’t’; even such trivial things would stress me out to an extent that I had begun to hate the child growing within me. Finally, I resorted to counselling,” the Mumbai-based HR professional confesses.
Just like hundreds of pregnant women, Natasha was a victim of pregnancy depression. Common with expecting women, symptoms of depression are typically ignored and are often dismissed as temporary mood swings typically witnessed during pregnancy. But the problem in reality is more serious than that.
“Instances of depression during pregnancy are not rare among pregnant women. Estimates indicate that up to 33 per cent of women at some point experience anxiety or depression during pregnancy,” says Dr Sonal Kumta, gynaecologist, Fortis Hospital, Mumbai.
For a long time, it was believed that pregnancy hormones protected the mother-to-be against depression. But, it has now been observed that the rapid increase in hormone levels at the start of pregnancy can disrupt brain chemistry and lead to increased levels of anxiousness and self-doubt. If left unidentified and untreated, prenatal depression can prove to be disastrous for both, mum and her unborn baby.
Continue reading to know how to recognise the symptoms of depression.
Stress and anxious feelings are a common response to a situation where a person feels under pressure. These feelings usually elapse once the stressful situation has passed. But depression is when feelings of anxiety don’t seem to subside. They exist without any reason or cause, making it difficult for a person to cope with daily life. Anxiety and depression often co-exist. Here are some typical signs:
- Difficulty in communicating feelings with others, including the doctor
- Trouble concentrating
- Feeling anxious most of the time
- Recurrent periods restlessness
- Feeling short-tempered often
- Having severe sleep problems
- Perpetually feeling extreme fatigue
- Being preoccupied with constant negative thoughts
- Desire to eat all the time or not eating at all
- Feeling that nothing is enjoyable anymore
- Often feeling weepy and helpless
“It can sometimes get tricky to correctly identify mood disorders during pregnancy. This is because some signs can overlap with symptoms of pregnancy, such as changes in appetite and energy levels or concentration,” explains Dr Kumta. “It is perfectly normal for a pregnant woman to worry a little about the baby’s health. But if symptoms are so severe that a woman is unable carry on with the daily routine normally, she must call for help,” she adds.
Risks to mother and baby
If the mother-to-be does not receive timely treatment for depression, she and her unborn child are susceptible to critical risks. Read on:
Risks to baby
- low birth weight
- Premature birth (before 37 weeks)
- Low APGAR score (which rates a new-born’s health after delivery),
- Poor adaptation outside the womb, including respiratory distress and jitteriness
Risks to the mother
- Suicidal tendencies
- Postpartum depression or anxiety
- Use of substances such as alcohol or drugs
- An impaired attachment to the baby
- Pre-term labour
- Need for a C-section delivery
Continue reading to know how you can prevent depression during pregnancy.
Preventing depression during pregnancy
Nipping depression in the bud is of vital importance for the health of the expecting mother. Most often a pregnant woman falls prey to depression due to limited family support, domestic violence or marital conflict, work-related stress or uncertainty. Factors such as previous miscarriage, genetic make-up, unplanned pregnancy, young age of woman during pregnancy are other factors.
Encouragement and support from the spouse and family is the best way to help prevent depression during pregnancy. Once the expectant mother acknowledges her feelings, she can prevent this condition with these helpful tips suggested by Dr Kumta.
- Avoid fatigue by graciously accepting help from others for certain chores
- Take adequate rest
- Be open with expressing problems and getting help
- Start exercise as early as possible.
- Step out of the house for some fresh air
- Find and connect with other mums-to-be
- Dress well even with your baby bump
- Treat yourself to ‘me’ time in a spa or shopping
- Engage in yoga, meditation or your hobbies
- Have date nights with hubby often
To know how you could treat depression during pregnancy, continue reading.
Treating depression during pregnancy
Once diagnosed, treatments that cause no harm to the unborn baby are advised. Following treatment options are said to help women with mild to moderate depression and do not include the use of medications. These may include:
- Psychotherapy, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), in which a skilled therapist teaches new approaches to managing thoughts and emotions
- Intake of Omega-3 essential fatty acids, which are found in foods such as oily fish and walnuts, which can act as a natural mood-booster
- Light therapy, in which patients are exposed to artificial sunlight at specific times of the day to help relieve depression symptoms
- Acupuncture, a Chinese practice that (in this case) involves placing tiny needles into areas of the body thought to influence moods
For women in need of medication, there are low-risk options that can deliver real relief. “However, it is advisable to consult an experienced psychiatrist before starting medications containing anti-depressants which are safe during pregnancy,” states Dr Kumta.
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