• Vanessa Riolo

Depression in Expecting Mothers: Can it Affect Your Baby's Health?

Being a mother is arguably the most important and rewarding job a woman can have. The road to motherhood, however, and the nine months of pregnancy that precede becoming a mother can be a stress-inducing, difficult period. Not only does pregnancy take a toll on your physical health, but it can also affect your mental and emotional health. In fact, about 10 percent of women experience depression while pregnant. Depression left untreated during pregnancy can be dangerous for both the expecting mother and the child, which is preventable.


Depression

Depression, also known as Major Depressive Disorder, is an illness that affects the thoughts, emotions, and actions of an individual. Depression is very different from feeling sad; it is a serious medical condition that can mildly or severely affect someone’s ability to function normally.

Depression can manifest itself in a person for a variety of different reasons. Genetics play a major role in the development of this illness. Someone who has a history of depression in their family is at a greater risk of developing depression at some point in their lifetime. Approximately 40 percent of people who suffer from depression can trace the disease back throughout their family tree. Certain environmental conditions such as abuse, addiction, poverty, or loss of a loved one can also lead to depression.


Signs of Depression in Expecting Mothers

As any expecting mother will know, women often experience mood swings during their pregnancy. Sometimes, these hormone changes can lead to discouraged behaviors. How do you know if you are simply experiencing mood swings or if it is something much more serious?


Mood swings are common during pregnancy and are often a result of significant changes in your hormone levels that affect the brain chemicals which control your mood. Mood swings are most commonly experienced during the first trimester. If you are feeling any serious mood swings for more than two-weeks, it is important that you contact a medical professional as it could be a result of something more pressing. Furthermore, ensure you can identify the signs of depression in the event that you begin experiencing them while pregnant. Some signs of depression include:

  • Constant feelings of extreme sadness

  • Change in appetite (e.g., overeating or not eating enough)

  • Change in sleeping patterns

  • Fatigue and/or constant low energy levels

  • Crying spells

  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or inadequacy as a future mother

  • Withdrawing from loved ones

  • Disinterest in hobbies


Prenatal Depression Impacts Infant Health

Depression during pregnancy is not something that should be taken lightly. When left untreated, it can have detrimental effects on your baby’s health as well as your own. Depression can cause:

  • Miscarriages

  • Preterm deliveries

  • Delivering a baby with low birth weight

  • Babies to have greater trouble sleeping through the night

  • An increase in fussiness and sadness in your baby

  • An increase of colic in your baby

Not only can untreated prenatal depression have these effects on your child, it can also increase your risk of experiencing postpartum depression following childbirth. Infants of depressed mothers often have a hindered ability to form crucial attachments to their mothers, which can lead to developmental issues later in life.


Preventing Feelings of Depression During Pregnancy

Although some individuals experience depression due to genetic exposure to the illness, depression induced by environmental factors can often be prevented. Taking the necessary precautions to avoid this extreme distress as an expecting mother is vital and easy. Regular exercise releases the organic chemical dopamine in your body, promoting feelings of contentment. It is important that a pregnant woman does not overexert herself when working out as the added stress to the body is not healthy for the fetus; however, a moderate amount of exercise approved by your doctor can be tremendously beneficial. It is also important to get at least eight hours of sleep on a regular basis to ensure you stay well-rested. Finally, in order to prevent depression, it is also crucial to ensure you are eating a healthy diet that can provide you with sufficient nourishment.


Seeking Treatment for Prenatal Depression

Some treatment methods that could potentially be suggested by your doctor if you are experiencing prenatal depression include:

  • Therapy (individual or family)

  • Often used as the sole method of treating depression when it is a mild case

  • Often takes several sessions to make a significant improvement in emotional health

  • Support groups

  • Hearing other personal stories regarding struggles and challenges that relate to your current situation can be reassuring and supportive for individuals with depression

  • Medication

  • If brain chemistry is the main cause of your anxiety, your doctor may wish to put you on some form of medication

  • Some of the most common forms of medication prescribed while pregnant include tricyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors

  • Some women fear that taking medication for their depression while pregnant can harm the baby. However, to this date, children whose mothers have been prescribed this medication by a doctor have not been harmed

  • If you are planning on becoming pregnant and are already on antidepressants, it is essential that you talk to your doctor first

  • Electroconvulsive therapy

  • Often used for patients with severe depression and is proven to be safe during pregnancy

  • During this treatment, an electric current is passed through the brain while the patient is under anesthesia


If you are a pregnant woman experiencing depression, it is important to seek help. Remember, no one knows you better than yourself. No matter how close of a relationship you have with those around you, they cannot read your mind. You must be willing to open up to your healthcare provider, express your symptoms, and allow them to determine the best course of action that will most benefit the health of you and your baby.


Works Cited

Canada, P. (2016, May 26). Government of Canada. Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/pregnancy/depression-during-pregnancy.html.

Depression during pregnancy. (2019, March). Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://www.marchofdimes.org/complications/depression-during-pregnancy.aspx.

Depression in pregnant women and mothers: How it affects you and your child. (2020, July). Retrieved March 07, 2021, from https://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/pregnancy-and-babies/depression_in_pregnant_women_and_mothers.

Faris, S. (2017, July 25). Is depression genetic or environmental? Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/genetic#genetics.

Mood swings during pregnancy. (2020, October 29). Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/mood-swings-during-pregnancy.


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