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The Pre-Baby Blues – Recognising and Treating Antenatal Depression

Unlike postnatal depression, a term that many of us are familiar with, there is far less awareness of antenatal depression. Recent studies have shown that antenatal depression is just as common as postnatal depression, but often goes undetected.

The first study in Ireland into antenatal depression, conducted by Trinity College Dublin and the Irish Obstetric Services, indicates that antenatal depression is probably more common in Ireland than in most other EU countries.

Recognising and treating antenatal depression is crucial, not only for mum but for baby too, as depression during pregnancy has been shown to increase the chances of development problems during infancy. Antenatal depression has been linked to brain development and behavioural development disadvantages. In some cases, depression during pregnancy has also been linked to psychiatric disorders in adult life.

Pregnancy is typically a time of happiness, fulfilment and joy. Perhaps because of this, depression during pregnancy can be harder for women to recognise, and harder for those who love them to recognise and accept.

It’s not uncommon to experience shifting emotions during pregnancy. However, if you are experiencing the signs below, for any extended period of time, you may have prenatal depression:

  • Feeling tired all the time
  • A loss of interest in yourself, your pregnancy or both
  • Always feeling down, angry or anxious
  • Trouble sleeping

Common Causes

Hormone imbalances during pregnancy can lead to prenatal depression. Other contributing factors can include being rundown by pregnancy sickness and tiredness, anxiety over the coming motherhood, and money or relationship worries. Typical concerns reported by women who are experiencing depression during pregnancy include:

  • Feelings or concerns about such a life-changing event
  • How you view yourself, particularly as you experience physical changes, such as weight change, enlarged breasts and general discomfort from pregnancy
  • How you view the changes in lifestyle that motherhood may bring for you
  • How your partner and family see your new baby
  • Worrying about how depression may impact on your relationships
  • Memories of difficulties with past pregnancies

Symptoms

Symptoms of antenatal depression can surface at any stage during pregnancy. Although more common with women who have suffered from depression in the past, it is by no means inevitable. A depression free history also doesn’t guarantee that you won’t develop depression during pregnancy.

Antenatal depression is characterised by higher than normal levels of worry about the birth and motherhood. Symptoms can include tearfulness, emotional detachment, chronic anxiety, lack of energy and feeling isolated or guilty.

Advice

If you are suffering from any of the signs and symptoms above, it may be helpful to consider these recommendations by the UK’s Royal College of Psychiatrists:

  • Take it easy – try to avoid doing too much and take care not to become overtired
  • Talk to someone – If you don’t have a close friend that you feel you can talk to, there are local groups that can be supportive before and after the birth such as Cuidiu Cork
  • Attend antenatal classes – If you don’t have a partner to take with you, take a relative or a friend
  • Don’t change antidepressant medication during pregnancy without getting medical advice first
  • Keep in touch with your GP and health visitor regularly
  • Make sure you get treatment for depression in pregnancy. Treatments can range from talking therapy to medication, your GP will be able to advise on what’s best for you
  • Accept help – be open to any help from family and friends, don’t try to be ‘super-woman’ and deal with everything on your own

Treatments

It’s important that you speak with your midwife or GP if you are feeling low during pregnancy. There are various antenatal depression treatments available to help. People respond differently to different treatments so it is really important that you speak with your GP or other specialist services and organisations.

Treatments available include:

  • Counselling and therapy – as well as helping you to feel better, talk therapies offer an opportunity to look into any underlying causes that may have contributed to the depression.
  • Medication – your GP can prescribe antidepressants, which can help to ease the symptoms of antenatal depression. Your doctor will ensure that the medication selected for you is safe during pregnancy.
  • Peer support groups – in the right environment, peer support can be highly beneficial to mothers suffering with antenatal or postnatal depression. Speaking to other mothers who have come through antenatal depression enables mums to see that they can get better. It’s important to check that the group is properly safeguarded with fully trained staff.

Getting Better

It’s important to remember that you are not alone. Particularly during pregnancy, suffering from depression can feel very isolating and confusing. It’s important to talk about how you are feeling and try to be proactive and seek help. With the right help and support, things can get better.

For more information, advice and support you may want to visit these websites:

Postnatal Depression Ireland (PND) – providing support and friendship to those suffering post-natal depression

Post Natal Depression and Cuidiu Support in Cork