Antenatal Depression

How common is depression in pregnancy?

At least one in ten women will suffer depression and/or anxiety during pregnancy. In fact, up to 70 percent of pregnant women experience some degree of depressive symptoms, and of those, 12 percent meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression. A third of women who suffer depression in pregnancy will go on to suffer post natal depression. 

Feeling weepy or experiencing mood swings is quite normal during pregnancy but not if you are unable to function, are highly stressed, experiencing suicidal thoughts, and thoughts of harming yourself. Morning sickness and fatigue will compound all these symptoms, as will the pressure that you are expected to feel joyful at this time. It is vital that you look after your self. Take time off work if you need to – it is unlawful for your employer to treat days off sick whilst you are pregnant as a disciplinary issue.

Physical causes and risk factors…

  • Hormonal changes – Opinion used to be that the sudden increase in the pregnancy hormones oestrogen and progesterone protected against depression and created a sense of well being.  Experts now believe that the hormonal surge affects brain chemistry which may lead to depression. It can also be caused by a lack of hormones – in particular, if the placenta is not producing enough progesterone.
  • Vitamin Deficiency – Lack of iron, zinc and B vitamins, in particular, B6 and B12 have all been linked to depression.
  • Acute sickness – Hyperemesis gravidarum.
  • Personal and/or family history of depression.
  • Past history of abuse (verbal, physical, sexual)Pregnancy can evoke painful memories of abuse from the past as you start to think about becoming a parent yourself.  The loss of control over your growing body can reflect the loss of control you felt when you were abused.
  • Underlying Anxieties – For example, fear of birth, fear of losing a much wanted baby, something’s wrong with the baby, fears about becoming a parent…
  • If you have already suffered the loss of a baby through miscarriage, still birth or neonatal death.
  • Undergone fertility treatment(s).
  • Problematic or high risk pregnancy.
  • Excessive weight gainEmotional Impact of the physical change in pregnancy on body image.
  • Unplanned pregnancy, and/or single motherhood.

Symptoms of depression

  • Feeling low and tearful
  • Thoughts of death and self harm
  • Unable to cope with everyday tasks
  • Unable to concentrate or make decisions
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Irritable and angry
  • Hostility towards others
  • Loss of appetite or over eating
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Anxiety and panic
  • Obsessive fear about the baby’s well being

Useful reading

Pregnancy Blues: What Every Woman Needs To Know About Depression During Pregnancy. Shaila Kulkarni Misri.
Antenatal & Postnatal: Practical Support And Advice For All Sufferers. Siobhan Curham.