Prenatal depression (also known as antenatal or antepartum depression) is the term for depression that occurs during pregnancy. According to ACOG, it occurs in 14-23% of pregnancies. That is common! Shockingly common, considering how little it is talked about. I think we need to be talking about it! I think a lot of women do what I used to do, and ignore anything we come across about prenatal depression, because we think it could never happen to us. Until it does.
Symptoms of prenatal depression include:
- A sense that nothing feels enjoyable or fun anymore
- Feeling blue, sad, or "empty" for most of the day, every day
- It's harder to concentrate
- Extreme irritability or agitation or excessive crying
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping all the time
- Extreme or never-ending fatigue
- A desire to eat all the time or not wanting to eat at all
- Inappropriate guilt or feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
Guilt was a big part of it for me, as were appetite issues and fatigue, and lack of motivation. I experienced more "irritability" than "excessive crying," though at one point I was crying about once a week. I think that because I felt angry and overwhelmed and not always sad is part of why I wasn't sure I had it at first. It was when I read Sheridan's experience of her postpartum depression that I recognized that feeling irritable could be a symptom of depression. I felt like I wasn't myself, like I wasn't enjoying day-to-day life or motherhood, and a whole lot of guilt because of that.
Prenatal depression wreaked havoc on my marriage. My husband didn't understand why I was so unlike myself, and he took it personally as a rejection. When he feels rejected, he withdraws, which was the last thing I needed at the time. Thankfully, our marriage made it through, and is stronger for it.
If you think you might have prenatal depression, what can you do about it? Here are a few ideas:
- Talk to someone. Someone who understands. I will talk to you if you need me! If you can't get what you need with peer support, seek therapy with a qualified provider. And if your depression causes thoughts of hurting yourself or others, get professional help immediately.
- Take a vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D deficiency can cause depression, and the majority of the American population is deficient because of how little time we spend in the sun without sunscreen. My midwives routinely check Vitamin D levels as part of prenatal bloodwork, and mine was 28 (optimal levels are 50-80).
- Take an Omega oils supplement. These fats are good for your developing baby and research suggests they can improve mood.
- Eat healthy. I know how hard this is to do when you aren't feeling motivated, but obviously your body needs nutrients to feel well and grow a person at the same time.
- Light or Moderate exercise. Find something you can do to get moving that you don't hate--walking with my kids in the stroller and dancing with my prenatal dance DVD have helped me when I've done them.
- Establish routines. This happened because we started the preschool co-op. It helps tremendously to have a rhythm to the day and the week. I also feel a lot better when I am accomplishing things and when I am in an uplifting (read: organized) environment, but it is hard to clean when you a depressed. Having Hypnobabies classes in my home each week has given me a reason I have to keep my house clean. If cleaning routines are new to you, I recommend FlyLady.
- If you are spiritual, pray or seek other spiritual help.
- Recognize that it will get better. Feeling this way is a temporary thing. It is not your life from now on. You are not a bad mother and prenatal depression is not your fault.
- Postpartum Support International also offers support for prenatal depression. Visit their Support Groups & Area Coordinators page to get connected with help in your area.
- Prenatal and Postnatal Depression Support Group on Facebook
- Prenatal Depression and Anxiety Support at CafeMom
- Antepartum depression - Birth Faith
- Depression in Pregnancy? - Choose Your Birth
- I Battled Prenatal Depression...For the Whole Nine Months, article at Mail Online
- So why doesn't anyone ever tell you about PREpartum depression? - Home/work
- The Pregnancy Taboo by Jody Santos
- Antepartum Depression: Stopping the Tears - The Deliberate Mom