Depression while pregnant: 6 Signs You Should Watch Out for

Guest Post by Lucie @ FemmeToMom.com

The journey to motherhood is one barely talked about and yet one of the most life-changing events that a woman will experience, so whilst a little angst about baby’s arrival is normal, depression while pregnant is an entirely different matter.

Usually when we think of pregnancy, the image that comes to mind is that of a happy smiling woman excited about meeting her unborn child.

Unfortunately, this is about the only image society holds of a pregnant woman, so if you’re imagining that’s the way it should be it’s totally normal.

Worldwide about 10% of pregnant women and 13% of women who have just given birth experience a mental disorder, primarily depression.

World Health Organization

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How do I know if it’s depression?

The big question is, are the feelings I’m having those of a perfectly understandable hormonal cocktail, or is there more to it?

I’ve broken down some key fundamental differences between the average emotion of anxiousness pending a baby’s arrival and depression while pregnant.

Take a look at this chart or read just below.

Hormones throughout your pregnancy

When you get pregnant, you also get thrown a huge hormonal cocktail of Hcg, estrogen and…

The combination of these hormones causes the well-known early symptoms of pregnancy such as nausea, fatigue, and food aversions, and cravings.

Less commonly talked about symptoms however can and do include:

  • Worrying about how baby will fit into your life
  • Scared about the changes it will make in your relationship
  • Stressed about the paperwork/preparing the home

These are what we would call ‘normal’ levels of pregnancy nerves, whereas depression and anxiety I will explain below.

A good measurement to take if you’re wondering if your stress is beyond ‘normal’ would be to write down during the day each time you feel anxious or have negative thoughts crop up.

Note down whether this is occurring daily, how long for, if there are any external factors triggering the feelings and where you feel it in your body.

The more information you can get, the better because you have a good description to present to your provider.

Starting to measure moments like this can help you decipher whether you actually have depression.

depression while pregnant might seem like a scary thought but it doesn't have to be.

What causes depression?

Depression takes over when the brain’s capacity to regulate hormones and neurotransmitters is reduced.

There is a lot of research on depression, but the factors are different for every person.

That said, one of the common points scientists have found is the brain’s ability to produce enough neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine. 

The production rate of such neurotransmitters is thought to be highly affected by levels of stress, which is why it would make sense then that pregnant women can be susceptible to depression.

It is also worth it to note that becoming a Mother during a global pandemic can increase your risks of developing a mental health concern. For some interesting information check out Moms are Not OK research published by Frontiers around how depression while pregnant and newly postpartum changed in 2020.

When is it depression?

Depressive/anxious behaviours can have you:

  • Doubting yourself constantly and your ability to mother
  • Taking nesting to an extreme and impulse buying to avoid anxiety
  • Questioning your future, feeling like there’s no hope for you
  • A sense of emptiness in your life
  • Difficulty in finding joy in the things you normally would

Signs of depression while pregnant 

1. Irregular sleep patterns

Growing a baby requires a lot of energy, so needing more sleep is a must, but if you can’t seem to drift off when you need to or have anxious thoughts about your future stopping you from getting some rest, you could have perinatal depression.

Perhaps you try to nap but the anxiety to get stuff done or not feel like you’re falling behind has you getting out of bed to clean the kitchen.

Perhaps you stare at the ceiling at 4am, your thoughts being the reason you can’t fall back asleep.

The fact of the mater is that Depression and Anxiety impact Maternal Mental Health and sleep in a variety of ways.

2. Difficulty in finding joy in the things you normally would

It’s normal to have a lot on your mind when you’re pregnant, but if your thoughts are stopping you from enjoying a coffee with a friend or a date out doing something you love, there’s a problem.

The normal things that you love to do feel useless and you just can’t get motivated to do anything you’re passionate about.

A brain receptive to dopamine and serotonin (the happy hormones) will be able to enjoy little moments of happiness and laughter during the day, a brain with depression however, will have almost none, if any. 

If you’re finding it hard to experience any joy throughout your day, you may be feeling one of the symptoms of depression while pregnant.

depression while pregnant may affect your sleeping habits, or make it harder to sleep than it would normally be during pregnancy.

3. Changes in appetite

Pregnant women are notorious for absurd cravings and eating a lot – hence the saying ‘eat for two’.

Or it could go the other way, resulting in no appetite at all. 

If you notice your food intake or even your desire to eat dropping, however, with no nausea or physical reason, then it could be a sign of depression while pregnant.

For example, if only the thought of preparing something to eat again sets your mind spiraling, you pick at your plate or just snack your way through the day, there may be an underlying issue.

4. Trying to numb your feelings

When depression hits, it can be common to find something to numb the pain of it, such as eating, drinking or sleeping.

This search for numbness is a good sign that something bigger is going on, so watch for the difference between a real craving and anxiety eating.

This could also look like online shopping for baby items in order to feel more in control of the life-changing situation of caring for another little human.

Whatever it is for you, if it’s something you need to do to be able to not feel, it’s likely there are traces of depression while pregnant there.

5. Sense of hopelessness

Hope has this way of making you see the positive side of a situation – it’s what gets you through tough times.

Hope tells you that this sensation is not forever. It helps you understand that all is not lost. When you have depression while pregnant though, there is little to no hope left in you on dark days.

Try writing down something you look forward to when baby arrives, if you’re struggling to think of positives, it could be a sign of depression.

6. Doubting yourself and your ability to mother

When one has depression, it usually goes hand in hand with low self esteem – the negative thoughts don’t stop at your circumstances, but also about yourself. It’s much easier to knock yourself down, undermine your achievements or feel like you’re less worthy than you are.

If you’re catching yourself saying negative things to yourself repeatedly, even for little mistakes, as well as the other symptoms we’ve mentioned then you may be depressed.

You may auto punish yourself for forgetting things, not doing things right or saying things out of place.

Most mothers doubt their ability to be a mother at some point or another during pregnancy.  But dealing with depression while pregnant may increase the frequency and intensity of these thoughts.

What to do if you feel you have depression

Depression is a serious illness that with the right treatment can be managed, but it’s important to be honest with yourself if you’re feeling the symptoms.

There are support groups out there and women that go through the same thing as you, your doctor will probably point you in the right direction.

I want you to know that there is nothing wrong with you above all, it’s not your fault. 

With the right help and support, you can get through this.

See your healthcare provider

It’s important for them to stay in the loop so that you can have a personalized follow up and treatment.

Depression may seem obvious to you, but if you’re carrying on with everyday life, then those around you could be completely oblivious so while it may be hard, try to speak up.

If you are unsure of what to look for in a Care Provider you may want to check out What You Need to Know When Choosing a Care Provider.

Tell your close friends

You may feel vulnerable sharing this truth with your friends, but they want to help in the best way they can.

Keeping them in the loop means vital support for you, especially on days you need it the most.

See a counsellor

Your friends are probably great listeners, but for you to avoid feeling like a burden and have professional support, you can try a counselor.

There are often systems in which you can find free help in your area, have a look online and see what you find.

A counsellor offers open ears and no judgement.

Put Down Your Phone

I know, I know, you are likely reading this on your phone right now. But it’s a proven fact that our attachment to our cell phones tends to make some aspects of depression and anxiety worse.

Putting your cell phone down for a short break a couple times through out the day, or even for a whole day may help give you a break to focus on other things that build you up, like a conversation with your friend, or partner.

You can learn more about how Cell Phones affect our Mental Health and How to Reduce the Impact

you don't have to deal with depresion while pregnant on your own.  Reach out to those around you and get support, you deserve to have others in your life that will help you achieve your best pregnancy.

You don’t have to go it alone

Bottom line: depression may have hit you, but you don’t have to go through it alone. If you have the tendency to want to feel in control, you’re going to need to let go a little and trust that you are in good care.