Depression during pregnancy -- how can you really handle it?

by Mollee Bauer

Depression during pregnancyPregnancy's supposed to be one of the happiest times of a woman's life, but for many women, this is a time of confusion, fear, sadness, stress and even depression.

About 20 percent of women struggle with some aspect of depression during pregnancy and 10 percent will suffer from a major depression.

Depression is a mood disorder that affects 1 in 4 women at some point during their lifetime, so it should be no surprise that this illness would also touch women who are pregnant.

Unfortunately, depression isn't diagnosed properly during pregnancy because people think it's just another type of hormonal imbalance. This is a very dangerous assumption because it could bring harm to mom and baby.

Depression is an illness that can be treated and managed during pregnancy, but most important is seeking out help and support as the first step.

How is depression during pregnancy defined?

The definition falls into the category of a mood disorder. Mood disorders are biological illnesses that involve changes in brain chemistry. During pregnancy hormone changes can affect brain chemicals, which directly relate to depression and anxiety. These can be exasperated by difficult life situations, resulting in "antepartum depression," or depression during pregnancy.

What are the signs or symptoms?

Women could experience some of the following symptoms for two weeks or more:

  • Persistent sadness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Loss of interest in activities that you usually enjoy
  • Recurring thoughts of death, suicide or hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Change in eating habits

What are the possible triggers?

  • Relationship problems
  • Family or personal history of depression
  • Fertility treatments
  • Previous pregnancy loss
  • Stressful life events
  • Complications in pregnancy
  • History of abuse or trauma

Can my baby be harmed by my depression?

If not treated, it can have potentially dangerous risks to mom and baby. Untreated depression can lead to poor nutrition, drinking, smoking, and suicidal behavior, which can cause premature birth, low birth weight and developmental problems. A woman who's depressed won't have the strength or desire to care for herself or developing baby.

What are the real treatments or solutions?

If you're struggling with depression seek help. Talk with your healthcare provider about your symptoms. Treatment options include:

  • Support groups
  • Private psychotherapy
  • Medication
  • Light Therapy

If you have severe symptoms, your doctor may want to put you on medication immediately. Discuss with your healthcare provider what they feel is safest for your baby, but still beneficial to you.

If you do not feel comfortable talking with your healthcare provider about your feelings, find someone else to talk with. Never try to face depression alone...your baby needs you to seek help and get treatment.

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.