Depression in Pregnancy: Causes, Signs & Treatment

How to Deal with Depression during Pregnancy

We all feel sad, low, and experience mood swings from time to time. However, some people are affected by these feelings quite regularly and with growing intensity. The duration of these mood swings can last for days, months, and, at times, even years, and can appear without any apparent reason. While depression can affect anyone during the course of life, a pregnant woman can become especially vulnerable to depression due to the hormonal shifts in her body.

Video : Depression During Pregnancy – Signs and Risks

What is Depression in Pregnancy?

Depression can be a difficult period for all those who experience it, and it can be especially challenging if it happens when you are pregnant. It affects your thoughts and actions, and it could also lead to changes in your sleep pattern and eating habits. Depression and pregnancy can be a dangerous combination as it can turn a happy time into a miserable one that can become quite difficult to manage. At this stage, you should know that depression is much more than a low mood and it can easily grow into a condition that could have a telling impact on your mental and physical health.

Women who are affected by depression during pregnancy are generally reluctant to admit their problem, and this leads to further worsening of their condition. Since emotional health is as critical as your physical well-being, you should reach out to your doctor after you notice the first signs of depression during pregnancy.

Causes & Risk Factors for Depression While Pregnant

Many pregnant women are subjected to a wave of strong emotions, which includes feeling sad, hopeless, and experiencing a general loss of interest. This can last for a prolonged period and could cause an upheaval in daily life. Hence, it is important to know what causes this and understand its risk factors.


Some of the main causes of depression during pregnancy are:

  • History of depression during childhood or early adulthood (Note that many women can face depression for the first time during their pregnancy too)
  • Hormonal changes and psychological changes associated with pregnancy
  • Physical changes that occur during pregnancy, like weight gain and changes in sleep and eating patterns

Risk Factors:

  • History of depression in the past
  • History of abuse or trauma
  • Absence of partner or lack of emotional support during pregnancy
  • Unplanned pregnancy
  • Marital/relationship problems or other kinds of stress during pregnancy
  • Financial issues connected to the birth of the baby
  • Abortions in the past or loss of a previous child

Risk factors

What are the Signs & Symptoms of Depression in Pregnancy?

Having trouble sleeping or general fatigue are considered normal symptoms during pregnancy. However, if you lose interest in things that gave you pleasure or feel sad and hopeless about the situation, it is likely to be a sign that you have depression. It is best to discuss with your doctor if the following symptoms have been with you for more than a fortnight and are a part of your daily life:

  • Feeling of irritation or agitation
  • Difficulty in concentration
  • Loss of interest in daily activities and nothing seems like fun
  • Feeling of sadness and crying all the time
  • No or low energy to carry out day-to-day tasks
  • Feeling of being worthless or lacking initiative
  • Excessive need to sleep or eat/ Not being able to sleep
  • Overwhelming feeling of anxiety

What Complications do Pregnant Women with Depression Have?

Pregnant women who face depression have a greater chance of developing multiple complications than non-depressed women who are pregnant. Some of them are:

  • Preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy)
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Postpartum depression (Studies have shown that more than 15% of women who suffer from depression during pregnancy are susceptible to contracting postpartum depression)
  • Complications with delivery such as premature birth or delivery of a low birth-weight baby

Speak to your doctor at the earliest if you notice signs of depression during your pregnancy as it could harm your baby. If left untreated, it could lead to growing risks to the mother and the baby.

Can Prenatal Depression Harm your Baby?

Mothers who suffer from prenatal depression are more likely to give birth to premature babies, and the baby could be a low birth-weight one. Depression in mothers could also lead to the baby becoming more irritable and crankier than babies of mothers who do not suffer from depression during their respective pregnancies.

Taking antidepressants to deal with your depression during pregnancy could also prove to be harmful. Some studies have shown that antidepressants could have side-effects such as pulmonary hypertension (high B.P in lungs) and preterm birth. In case you have been taking anti-depressants during your third trimester, the baby could experience withdrawal which includes breathing issues, hypoglycaemia and anxiety, all of which could be for a short period of time. However, the side effects depend on the duration the antidepressants are taken for, the dosage, and the potency level. Do not consume any medication without consulting your doctor.

Treatments for Pregnancy Depression

Although depression may sound quite ominous, it can be treated if its symptoms are detected in time, and proper treatment is carried out. Here are a few areas of treatment for pregnancy-related depression:

Psychological treatments

Commonly known as psychotherapy, there are two common lines of psychological treatments that are effective for pregnant women: Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT).

  • Cognitive behaviour therapy is helpful in identifying the negative thoughts that affect a person’s moods and behaviour, and rationalizing them too. It encourages the person to challenge her beliefs and test the logic behind these thoughts.
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy helps one to resolve any past losses and gives inner strength to manage internal conflicts that cause depression.

Psychological treatments

Medication (antidepressants)

You could be prescribed with antidepressants if your depression is severe and you are unable to cope with it. Some modern anti-depressants are effective in managing the symptoms of pregnancy-related depression and are safe to be used during pregnancy. They do not pose the danger of addiction either. However, as discussed earlier, some medications may not be suitable for pregnant women. Hence, never self-medicate and always consult your doctor first.

Other treatments

Apart from psychological treatments and medication, depression can also be treated by using Electroconvulsive Therapy or ECT, in which a low electric current is passed through the brain to stimulate it. Regular exercise, yoga, and following a specially formulated diet are other ways of treating antepartum depression.

Are there any safe medications to treat pregnancy depression?

Any kind of medication taken during pregnancy does carry some amount of risk, and antidepressants are no different. Of course, your doctor will prescribe them considering how severe they are and any other medication you are presently on. The dose will be lowered, increased, or stopped completely depending on how your depression is being managed. However, medication is necessary if depression is a severe threat and could affect the baby in any way.

Natural ways to treat prenatal depression

Prenatal depression can be treated with many natural options, and the most popular ways are:

  • Light Therapy: This involves exposure to artificial sunlight at specific times of the day. Light therapy has shown positive effects on pregnant women and can eliminate the symptoms of depression
  • Acupuncture: This involves placing small needles into different areas of the body. It has been known to improve the overall mood in the depressed person
  • Exercise: Regular exercises can not only improve physical health but also keep depression at bay
  • Diet: Consuming a diet rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids can help boost your mood. This is found in foods like fish and walnuts

Natural ways to treat prenatal depression

When to contact your health care provider?

You should immediately get in touch with your doctor if you have begun harbouring harmful thoughts about yourself or if you are struggling with your everyday responsibilities. Feeling depressed during pregnancy is common, but one has to watch out for symptoms that could lead to an uncontrollable situation.

Severe antenatal depression can lead to suicidal tendencies or thoughts about harming the baby. In such cases, it is best to speak to your family or a close friend and get instant medical attention. You should see a psychiatrist immediately on identifying extreme thoughts of fear, worry, or obsession related to yourself or your baby. This does not show weakness but rather enhances your willingness to go to great lengths to keep your baby safe.

Antenatal depression, despite being a common mood disorder amongst pregnant women, has to be treated quickly and with utmost care. With many medical and non-medical treatments available in the modern world, it is possible to treat this condition, and one can return to normal life within weeks of getting treated. Pregnancy is a delicate time, and it is important for the mother-to-be and people around her to monitor any physical and emotional changes and act towards normalizing the situation at the earliest.



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