Depression During Pregnancy: Why It Happens & Common Signs

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If you’re facing depression during pregnancy, you are not alone. Many women find themselves feeling depressed during this experience and it can come as a shock. Postpartum depression is a conversation more and more people are discussing so it can feel a bit surprising to experience depression while pregnant when it’s not as commonly talked about.

Want to learn more about how prenatal pregnancy and what you can do to treat it? Read on to learn everything you need to know to manage this season of pregnancy.

What Causes Prenatal Depression?

Depression is considered a mood disorder and people often describe suffering extreme sadness, loss of interest, fatigue, and anxiety. These symptoms are consistent with what occurs when suffering prenatal depression. But what causes it and is depression normal during pregnancy?

It is estimated that around 7% of pregnant women feel depression during their pregnancy. So, yes, it is normal.

Prenatal depression can happen to those who already have an existing mental condition or a history of mental illnesses. It is also common for those facing lifestyle changes on top of pregnancy to become depressed. Below are some examples of those who may be disposed to depression during pregnancy. 

  • Anxiety, panic, or obsessive-compulsive disorders
  • Depression or history of postpartum depression
  • Facing a stressful life event such as a divorce or financial challenges
  • Expecting multiples (twins, triplets, or more)
  • Carrying a child with special needs or health problems
  • An unplanned pregnancy
  • Previously facing infertility or miscarriage
  • Lacking a supportive community

While predispositions and lifestyle events can play a factor, one of the main causes prenatal depression occurs is due to the change in hormones. Pregnancy comes with many hormone changes and mood is often highly affected. Bodily changes can cause a shift in mood as well. Some women report feeling depressed about weight gain during pregnancy.

pregnant woman talking to doctor
Courtesy of Mart Production (via Pexels)

How Common Is Depression During Pregnancy?

Is depression normal during pregnancy? Absolutely. Depression during pregnancy is one of the most common issues pregnant women face. Anyone can experience prenatal depression and even celebrities such as Meghan Markle have opened up about their experiences.

Similar to postpartum depression, people are starting to open up more about prenatal depression. If you think you might be facing that, it could help to seek out other women with similar experiences. Building a community could be beneficial in helping you face this challenge.

Despite being common in pregnancy, prenatal depression can often go untreated. Many of the symptoms associated with it share pregnancy symptoms. Below is a list of common symptoms and signs of both depression and pregnancy.

  • Anxiety
  • Changes in appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Extreme sadness
  • Fatigue or insomnia
  • Hopelessness
  • Irritability 
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Mood swings
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches or muscle aches
  • Stress over body image
  • Withdrawing from friends or social activities

During pregnancy, it’s a good idea to keep a journal to log how you are feeling. Because there are so many symptoms of depression, it can be beneficial to have a log of what’s going on so you know when something is off.

You can talk to your health professional about what you are going through. Have an open dialogue with them so you can get treated properly for your symptoms. 

Can I Take Antidepressants While Pregnant?

Yes, in most cases, antidepressants can be taken during pregnancy. The risk of problems for babies, such as birth defects, in women taking antidepressants, is generally very low in most medications. However, some medications may pose health risks to your baby. Speak with your doctor to know what change may be required, such as switching medications or taking lower doses.

If you already face mental health disorders, you are likely already taking medications before pregnancy. If facing a mental issue during pregnancy is new for you, your doctor may prescribe something for you to take to help you manage your symptoms. Be open with your doctor about how the medication is making you feel and ask for changes, if necessary. It is common to test out different medications before finding the one that works best for your body. 

Similar to taking antidepressants during pregnancy, the experience is the same when using medication while breastfeeding. You will likely continue on the same dosage and medication you took during pregnancy to treat your mental health symptoms. You want to keep your doctor in the loop about what you are taking while breastfeeding as well for the continued health of you and your baby.

What Other Treatment Options Are Available

Seeking other treatment options in place of or in addition to antidepressants is always a good idea. In cases where you have to make changes to your current antidepressants taken before pregnancy, supplementing that with a therapist can help you continue to manage your depression.

In general, therapy can be effective at helping you manage prenatal depression. Whether it’s individual therapy or group therapy, both can be beneficial in getting the support you need. Finding local communities or support groups to engage with can help as well, but are not overly recommended in place for professional treatment. 

Speak with your doctor for a referral to a therapist if you do not have one and be proactive in managing your mental health. While your depression could be triggered by your pregnancy, if you’re facing it during pregnancy, you are at higher risk of postpartum depression (PPD) after your baby is born. Seeking the help you need during your pregnancy can help you proactively find solutions to PPD. Prioritize your prenatal care to avoid untreated depression during pregnancy.

Depression during pregnancy is not something to be ashamed of and happens more often than you might realize. If you are worried you could be facing prenatal depression, talk with your doctor about finding solutions. Be open with your friends and family members to get the support you need to help you treat depression during pregnancy.

This article was written exclusively for Love What Matters by Kate Fann. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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