GUEST POST BY Lisa Hunter
From the minute your child is born, your life changes forever – late night feeds, coping with childhood illnesses and filling endless summers with fun activities – whether your offspring wish to participate or not! Yes, parenthood is certainly challenging, but most moms have to admit that they would not have it any other way.
However, for some moms, this challenge begins before their bundle of joy has even arrived in the world. According to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, around 13 per cent of expectant mothers and new moms suffer from depression during this highly transitional period; a factor which, in many cases, is wrongly put down to being simply the “baby blues”. Yet depression is a serious mental illness which goes much further than the normal hormonal changes during pregnancy, and can often continue long after the baby is born.
Recognizing the warning signs and asking for help are the first steps to recovery, so by familiarizing yourself with the associated symptoms you can protect both you and your baby from the problems this illness can create.
Spotting the Symptoms
It can be extremely difficult to recognize symptoms of depression in pregnant women, largely because of the extreme amount of pressure an expectant mother faces to “be happy”. Sure, complaining about morning sickness and swollen ankles is par for the course, but the image of a radiant, glowing woman with a neat little bump is very hard to displace. As a result, pregnant women with depression often play down their symptoms in order to conform to society’s expectations.
Another factor which makes diagnosis so challenging is the fact that, as a mental illness, there is no set list of symptoms for depression as everyone is different. However, some of the most common indicators include trouble sleeping, near-constant feelings of anxiety and even an inability to concentrate on one task for a prolonged period of time. Low moods are common during pregnancy thanks to hormonal fluctuations, but if these persist for longer than 2 weeks it may be worth considering a chat with your doctor.
Where to Turn
If you suspect you are suffering from depression during your pregnancy, the most important thing to remember is that you are not alone by a long way as many thousands of women will attest to. The worst thing you can do is ignore it and hope it goes away by itself – this can lead to destructive behaviors which can endanger both you and your unborn child.
Fortunately, there are a wealth of different depression support options to turn to with the majority being social rather than medical means. There are a number of support groups for expectant mothers which allow you to speak about the issues you face in confidence, safe in the knowledge that others understand and empathize with what you are going through. Exercise classes geared towards pregnant women can also help – gentle activity releases serotonin, the hormone which boosts mood and instills a sense of wellbeing. Finally, speaking to your doctor about the medicinal opportunities available is always to be advised. Although there is some speculation regarding the effect of antidepressants on infants in utero, the benefits of this measure can far outweigh the negatives. Fetuses can sense anxiety and stress levels in their mother from a very early stage in development, so by reducing your own stress you will subconsciously allow your baby to feel more comfortable during key stages.
Family and Friends
Perhaps the most important support network you have available to you is your family and close friends, as they are the people you feel most comfortable opening up to. Although discussing depression is an extremely daunting prospect for the majority of sufferers, those closest to you can help support you through the toughest times and act as a safety net outside of any support groups or exercise classes you choose to join.
If you are currently supporting a friend or family member suffering with depression whilst pregnant, it is important to encourage them to seek help from trained professionals. Support and encouragement go a long way in alleviating the feelings of pressure faced by expectant mothers, yet by urging them to look to a wider support base you can help ensure that both mother and baby remain safe for the duration of the pregnancy.