How pregnancy affects mental health

Pregnancy can be a time of great joy and happiness. Different women respond to pregnancy differently, but pregnancy can affect some womens' mental health negatively.
Pregnancy can be a time of great joy and happiness. Different women respond to pregnancy differently, but pregnancy can affect some womens' mental health negatively.

For an expecting parent, pregnancy can be a time of great joy and happiness. Though that's true in most cases, it's important to know that pregnancy can also have a negative effect on mental health in some cases. This effect can affect different people differently, but there are several ways to cope with the changes you may feel.

Pregnancy can have an impact on both physical and mental health. Women are at their most vulnerable during the first trimester of pregnancy — when they may experience nausea — including morning sickness — and mood swings due to hormonal changes.

Pregnant women are also prone to mental health conditions like depression and anxiety:

Depression

Depression affects around one out of 10 expecting mothers and can come on gradually or suddenly throughout the pregnancy. This kind of depression can happen because of hormonal changes. Other things that may cause depression include stress or anxiety.

Depression during pregnancy can lead to severe complications for both mother and child, so it's important to talk with your doctor about how you are feeling. Depression can manifest during or after expectancy ad:

  • General sadness accompanied by feelings of hopelessness
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Irregular appetite
  • Inability to cope with everyday stresses
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Lack of enjoyment in previously enjoyable activities
  • Low self-esteem — especially about parenting

The good news is that there's a lot you can do for yourself and your baby when it comes to battling this illness — including eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, getting enough rest each day, as well as seeking out family and friend support.

Anxiety

Anxiety is a natural human emotion, but when we are constantly anxious or have an exaggerated response to stressful events. It's called generalized anxiety disorder — or GAD. Signs that you may have GAD include being worried, frightened, or uneasy all the time.

The first trimester of pregnancy can be an anxious time for expecting mothers. The rapid changes happening in their bodies, the joys and fears about what's to come, and the knowledge that they'll not have full control over themselves or their lives for quite some time — all of these cause anxiety in many women during this period.

Anxiety in expecting mothers may also result from other worries related to:

  • Complications around pregnancy
  • Fear of childbirth
  • Financial worries
  • The new responsibilities that will be placed on them as parents

The symptoms of depression and anxiety can vary from one person to person for several reasons, including:

  • Preexisting mental health conditions
  • Recent traumatic events in your life
  • Your level of happiness about the pregnancy
  • Disturbing childhood memories
  • Discontinuation of mental health medications due to the pregnancy

It's important to remember that pregnancy-related anxiety can become overwhelming. The good news is that there are organizations in most communities that offer support for pregnant women with depression or other mental health problems.

As a pregnant mother, you should know the risks of untreated depression or anxiety. It can lead to things like low birth weight, premature births, and even, postpartum depression.

Ways to reduce feelings of depression and anxiety during and after pregnancy 

Here are some ways to reduce feelings of depression and anxiety during and after pregnancy:

  • Exercise regularlyExercise is a natural way to increase endorphins — or the feel-good chemicals — in your body that make you happier.
  • Be mindful about what you're eating — Eating lots of vegetables and healthy fats can reduce the risk for depression.
  • Take time for yourself — Giving yourself some downtime can help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, even if it's just twenty minutes each day to do something relaxing like reading a book or meditating.
  • Get enough sleep — Lack of sleep can make you feel depressed, anxious, or stressed.
  • Try to keep a positive attitude — Keeping a positive attitude may be difficult at times during your pregnancy, but it can reduce stress and relieve the changes it might create.

Seeking mental help when pregnant?

For any mental health issue — especially that during pregnancy — you should always seek medical help or psychological support. Here are three specialists you can consult when you need this sort of help: 

  • A therapist — They can help you work out your feelings and cope with practical concerns.
  • A psychiatrist — They can prescribe medications to treat your mental health issues like depression or anxiety. In most cases, your general physician, obstetrician, or therapist will provide you with a suitable referral.
  • A social worker — You may want to consult a social worker for advice on money management issues such as disability benefits and housing assistance programs.

If you have a mental health condition, it's vital to work with your healthcare provider to find the best treatment for you. ‌There are many options available, and no one solution can meet everyone’s needs or wants.

Mental illnesses should be treated like any other illness. Early intervention can help prevent worsening symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental illness.

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Medically Reviewed on 9/1/2021
References
SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: "Pregnancy week by week: Depression during pregnancy: You're not alone."

Paediatrics & Child Health: "Depression in pregnant women and mothers: How children are affected."

Royal College of Psychiatrists: "Mental health in pregnancy."