Pregnancy Related Depression
In Colorado, nearly one in every nine women who are pregnant, give birth or have a pregnancy loss will experience symptoms of depression. Specialists identify “baby blues” as “down” feelings that go away, without special treatment, and usually within 10 days after birth. However, they identify pregnancy related depression (PRD) as something that occurs during pregnancy or up to a year after birth, and doesn’t go away.
Depression is different from “blues.” PRD is marked by symptoms that persist for more than two weeks after birth. It is crucial that pregnant and recently pregnant women note the following symptoms and talk to their doctor or therapist about them.
- Feeling very sad, anxious, cranky or overwhelmed.
- Crying a lot or feeling hopeless.
- Not caring for yourself (not eating, dressing, or bathing).
- Either sleeping too much or too little.
- Nothing is interesting or fun.
- Worrying too much about or feeling little interest in baby.
- Fear of being alone with baby.
- Confusion or trouble concentrating.
- Not wanting to see family or friends.
- Feeling your baby would be better off without you.
Depression related to pregnancy is common and treatment is effective. But extra caution is needed if mothers experience any thoughts of hurting themselves or their child. Such thoughts should be taken seriously and acted on immediately by calling 911 or going to a hospital emergency room.
There are some classic life stresses that trigger depression, such as money problems, moving, loss of a loved one, problems with a partner. In addition to these problems, a difficult pregnancy or birth and personal or family history of depression may cause PRD. Or, there may be no obvious reason for the depression.
Mothers and pregnant women need to pay attention to how they feel. Persistent sadness, crankiness, or hopelessness during or after a pregnancy should be noted. These symptoms are more than short-term baby blues.
- Moms suffering with baby blues feel better when they:
- Talk, sing and read to baby.
- Cuddle and smile at baby.
- Do something “just for you” every day.
- Nutrition-eat at least three healthy meals every day.
- Sit down and rest when baby is resting.
- Get some exercise. Take baby for a walk.
- Get a babysitter.
- Talk freely to a supportive person.
Screening for PRD should be a routine part of health care during and after pregnancy. When the doctor or nurse brings it up, talk about your feelings. Find a New Mom support group and focus on wellness and nutrition. Eat healthy, regular meals and avoid alcohol. If your doctor recommends medication it may be the best thing, because with PRD, baby may be affected. There is a greater chance of low birth rate, premature birth, or later learning and behavior problems.
Family and friends can help by noticing telltale signs of struggling moms. Those within the family circle can make themselves knowledgeable about PRD and offer to baby sit or help around the house; ask mom and dad what would help. Don’t ignore dad; he may be emotionally affected, too. Understand mom may feel guilty because she doesn’t find the fulfillment and feel the joy she expected with her new baby, and children in the family may wonder why mom and dad seem unhappy and distant.
In this situation, children need support. Use simple words such as sad, cranky, tired, weak, worried or grouchy to explain parents’ feelings, and stress the children are not the cause of these feelings. Children are eager to help. Include them in the family dynamic by asking them to help mom feel better by, perhaps, drawing a picture. Assure them mom is getting help, and will get better soon, but there still may be some bad times until mom recovers.
It almost goes without saying the support of mom’s partner or spouse is invaluable, in the form of loving patience and expressed understanding. Specialists say attempts to minimize the anxiety, as in telling someone “to relax” or “snap out of it” don’t work, and cause the opposite reaction. “We will get through this,” “I love you,” “I am here for you,” are much more appreciated and comforting.
The points to remember are pregnancy related depression is common and with readily available professional help the bad feelings will be overcome. Your baby, your family and you will be well.