Depression and Pregnancy - Discussion

Most people would have you believe that any link between depression and pregnancy or depression during pregnancy is an oxymoron, that one cannot possibly be depressed during pregnancy since the common myth and perception is that pregnant women are generally blissful in their exalted state of expectant, imminent motherhood.

In fact, quite the reverse is true. The fact that this is not only true, but the odds are actually higher that depression prevails more among pregnant women than non-pregnant women, is clearly validated in the information provided below.

Since most women tend to subscribe to this largely fallacious myth that pregnant women are blissful, they are reluctant to talk about any delicate issues connecting depression and pregnancy. Hence, the odds that these women will be able to access information and timely help recedes further, leading to acute stress, anxiety and depression. Most tend to ignore it and this exacerbates the problem both for the mother-to-be, as well as the unborn child, as has been strongly validated by a body of research in this area.

Anxiety and stress experienced acutely by a pregnant woman will result in health and emotional issues that the baby will experience, and it is likely that this will continue into the adult life of the child. To address this, a special wing of the healthcare workers called Mother and Infant mental health workers proactively take measures to treat issues of depression during pregnancy.

Though the medical fraternity and most people focus on depression which occurs post pregnancy, statistics show that prenatal depression is more prevalent. A study conducted in 1989 which examined the prevalence of depression in a total of 360 pregnant women showed a clear link between depression and pregnancy - it found that 10% of women were clinically depressed during pregnancy, but only 6% were depressed in the post pregnancy period.

Hence, it is important that women understand that experiencing depression and pregnancy at the same time is not that uncommon, especially in the prenatal period, and that help and assistance for women who are pregnant and depressed is available, should you need it.

Symptoms linking depression and pregnancy

Since the natural symptoms of pregnancy sometimes overlap real symptoms of depression, it becomes challenging both for the caregiver as well as the expectant mother to distinguish between the two. Though it is natural for an expectant mother to experience mood dips due to morning sickness or tiredness during early pregnancy, if this low mood continues for more than two weeks and is accompanied by loss of pleasure and disinterest in all activities, the physician will make a clear-cut diagnosis of clinical depression.

Other signs to look out for which indicate an overlap of depression and pregnancy, besides a low mood and loss of pleasure, are the appearance of high irritability, losing one’s cool over minor issues, anger and violence.

The other criteria that are on the checklist for arriving at a diagnosis of depression during pregnancy are poor sleep or over-sleeping, poor appetite or over-eating, loss of sex drive, poor concentration, feelings of guilt over non-issues, low motivation, low energy, hopelessness, isolation from family and friends, thoughts of harming oneself, etc.

Mood and hormones during Pregnancy

Mood swings during pregnancy are generally associated with hormonal imbalance. It is important to understand the role that hormones play in pregnancy in order to effectively deal with mood swings, anxiety and stress during pregnancy.

One of the main hormones that play a key role during pregnancy is coritsol. This is less commonly known as compared to the more heard of pregnancy hormones like estrogens, beta–HCG, oxytocin, etc.

Beta human chorionic gonadotrophin is the hormone that is tested in blood or urine to confirm pregnancy, and it is specific to early pregnancy. Along with estrogens and progesterone, it assists in sustaining the fetus in the uterus. It also helps in the development of the placenta. In addition, it is one of the reasons for morning sickness, which leads to the link between depression and pregnancy in some.

Cortisol, as mentioned earlier, is one of the key hormones in pregnancy. The interesting point to note is that cortisol plays a key role in combating stress in pregnant as well as non-pregnant population, be it men or women. It is the human body’s stress-busting hormone.

During any stress experienced, whether it is from physical pain or ailments or emotionally threatening situations, cortisol sets off a chain reaction of hormones that helps the individual to cope. Now, when a person experiences depression, this complex hormonal activity gets disrupted, reducing and impairing the individual’s ability to cope with stress.

Depression and pregnancy - Potential risks to the growing fetus

There is one particular way in which depression and pregnancy problems are linked. It is a medical fact that babies experience a time of rapid and intense fetal growth and organ maturation (including brain development) during the last few weeks of pregnancy. Babies that are born even a couple of weeks earlier than term are found to be at risk for ailments and other complications.

Now, women who are noted to be clinically depressed during pregnancy or who are experiencing undiagnosed levels of stress and anxiety and have low moods for extended periods are prone to deliver earlier than term, have babies that are lower than normal birth weight, and have birth complications.

Not only do studies and research show that the risks are potentially experienced at the time of birth and in the immediate post natal period, there is now a large body of evidence that indicates that a pregnant mother’s untreated depression during pregnancy can have long lasting effects on the child, well into adulthood.

A study conducted in 2002 showed that untreated depression during pregnancy is somehow linked to a child’s emotional and behavioral problems at age 4. This is distinct from problems linked to depression experienced in the post natal period.

Thus, if you or someone you know are pregnant and depressed, or suffer from prenatal depression, it would be prudent to seek help.

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