Pregnancy Depression

May 2, 2010

Have you ever experienced depression during a pregnancy? I certainly have. In fact this pregnancy has found me fighting a lot of sad and depressive feelings.

We’ve all heard of, maybe even suffered from (or known someone who did) Post Partum Depression. Thankfully there’s much more awareness these days of the problem. There isn’t as much stigma attached to PPD. Women are more likely to get help now, and their loved ones have been taught to recognize the symptoms.

My suspicion is that depression during pregnancy is a lot more common than we want to believe. It’s just that noone really talks about it.

If you’re depressed during pregnancy, you may shy away from sharing that with others because you’re afraid they might think you don’t want the baby. Or you’ll be shamed for not “counting your blessings” (after all some women struggle with fertility), or whatever.

Alone
Creative Commons License photo credit: AmandaLouise

If you have a family history of mental illness, depression is more likely to rear its ugly head during pregnancy or postpartum. It’s so important to get the help you need. After researching this topic for years I’m convinced that self care measures are just as, if not better, than medications. If you have a tendency towards depression you may have to fight the demon every day of your life – for your whole life. But in the process you empower yourself and learn that you have much more control over your emotional state than you realize.

After thinking about this topic for months, I’ve come up with several factors that probably contribute to depression during pregnancy. Then I list a few things that have been helpful to me in overcoming it.

I hope it’s helpful to you or someone you care about.

Sense of Loss of Control

Pregnancy, birth, new motherhood – it really isn’t about us, is it? A lot of things are happening during this time that are beyond our control. No matter how much you exercise and eat well, your body is going to change – dramatically.

You might have illness or have to go on bedrest. Despite the joys of looking forward to the baby’s arrival, some of this is just plain depressing.

Your relationships will change. Your finances and employment will change. LIFE will change. Some of this change is a little scary, especially because so much changes so quickly. (And with the built in “deadline” of pregnancy, you’ve only got several months to adjust to it all!)

Mental health experts tell us that when a person feels in control of their life, their surroundings, and their future, they fare better emotionally.

So it makes perfect sense that having to give up this control during pregnancy can affect our emotional state. As adults, we’re accustomed to being mostly in control of our lives, and this gives us a sense of power and mastery. This is probably one reason why new moms struggle so much when living with a new baby. Despite their overwhelming love for the baby, they have to relinquish control in order to be the kind of mother they want to be.

*Be a planner. Be (as much as I sometimes hate this overused word) proactive. As much as you can, take steps to meet your goals. Don’t be too hard on yourself. During my first trimester, my online business came to a screeching halt and my income took a nosedive. That’s not easy to deal with. But it forced me to prioritize and make some tough decisions, which is a good thing. Take baby steps (how appropriate!) every day towards your goals. Remember that the most important thing you’re doing is growing a new human being. Everything else can take a backseat.

Body Changes During Pregnancy

I mentioned this already, but specifically for some mothers who struggle with body image issues (and um, who doesn’t?), the changes pregnancy brings about to your body can be unsettling.

Last summer, really for the first time in my entire adult life, I liked the way I looked in a bathing suit. I was in great shape. My youngest child was 3. It’s a little depressing thinking it’s going to take me that long to get back into shape. My old clothes aren’t going to fit for a loooong time, and that’s hard to deal with.

I also find it difficult to maintain my sense of style during pregnancy. I’m not one of these women who can get away with wearing “regular” clothes when she’s pregnant. Nor am I interested in buying larger sizes that are baggy all over. Maternity clothes (unless you have a lot of money to spend at the upscale maternity boutiques) all kind of look the same. Not only are you gaining weight but you can’t shop at your favorite stores or wear vintage or your cute favorite wardrobe items!

* It’s definitely worth it to budget for a little beauty and pampering. Get a stylish new haircut, get your toes done (at least if your ankles are swollen your toes can be pretty!), buy a new lipstick, treat yourself to some new skin care products. (A good excuse to do this is because you’re clearing out anything that may be bad for the baby.)

Hormonal Changes

Hormonal changes definitely play a role here. The increased estrogen that’s coursing through your veins during pregnancy can cause irritability and anxiety as side effects. No wonder we can be a little moody.  If you’re being grouchy with your loved ones, you feel guilty and disappointed with yourself.

* Good nutrition and avoiding low blood sugar by eating more frequently can help with this. Go ahead and have a good cry. Pray and ask for help. Tell your spouse that you need him to overlook grouchiness and love you anyway. Touch the people you love to get endorphins flowing. Exercise if you can. Ask for what you need whether it be a back rub or help with the household chores.

Nutrition Deficiency

Especially if you have several kids already,  it can be tricky sometimes to make sure you’re getting all of your nutritional needs met. I had a prenatal appointment the other day and found that I had LOST 2 pounds in a month. Since I’m not overweight, this isn’t appropriate at all. I also had ketones in my urine. My midwife told me that I was not getting enough calories so my body was burning fat for energy. (This is what happens when you diet.)

Since (other than the occasional visit to the swimming pool) I’m not exercising right now, I found this difficult to believe. But for several days in the previous week I felt like I simply couldn’t get full enough. I also noticed that I suddenly had NO tolerance for one of the kids asking for a bite of my food. I reminded them that I’m *already* sharing my food with the baby. (If you want to have your hand stabbed with a fork, take food from a very pregnant or nursing mother!) Obviously my body was trying to tell me something.

* It might be helpful to keep a food diary. For a week, write down everything you eat and drink. For me, eating a little something every couple of hours is necessary. I simply can’t do 3 meals a day and meet my nutritional needs during pregnancy or lactation. Preparing meals and snacks take up more time than I would like, but it’s too important to be lax in this area.

Have your health care provider take a look at your food diary, or count up your protein grams yourself and see if they are high enough. Make sure you’re getting enough healthy fats (which feed your brain and help stave off depression). For me personally, cod liver oil makes a difference. Especially during the worst of my morning/noon/night sickness last winter, I could tell the difference in my mood when I took my cod liver oil. I was probably deficient in Vitamin D.

When the sun is out, spend a few minutes just basking in it every day. It does wonders for your mood.

Eat organic butter (from grass fed cows if you can locate it, KerryGold is a brand sold in many grocery stores) and lots of it for Vitamin A.

Lack of Energy

Talk to anyone who suffers from a chronic illness, and they’ll tell you that it’s depressing when you’re unable to accomplish what you used to do. Being tired in the middle of the day,  requiring a nap, and then feeling dead dog tired by 8 p.m. at night isn’t uncommon during pregnancy. You can’t gogogo all day long like you used to.

*Eating well and enough can help, as can appropriate exercise. But the bottom line is that fatigue is one of the most common pregnancy symptoms. Your body is using an incredible amount of energy growing a placenta, extra blood, and a new PERSON. Adjust your expectations. Now (before baby’s arrival) is a good time to create simpler routines for housework and cooking.

Unplanned Pregnancy

I told a friend the other day that I’ve never had an unwanted baby, but I’ve sure had some unwanted pregnancies! No matter how much you love children and view them as a blessing, sometimes babies happen when you weren’t planning them or expecting them (or actively trying to avoid them).

* The only way I’ve really been able to deal with this is to remind myself of how I’ll feel after the baby comes. I know I’ll feel better physically immediately, and some of the issues I’ve already listed will begin to return to the way I want them. Plus babies are so much fun. If we didn’t have some of this post partum amnesia, we would probably never have more than one child. :)

Change in Schedule/Activities

One of the frustrating things about depression is that it robs you of the ability to pursue the very things that can help you feel better. It creates a vicious cycle.

Let’s say that before your pregnancy you exercised a lot. This relieved stress and elevated your mood. Maybe you frequently went out with friends and had an active social life. If sickness during pregnancy limits your activities, you won’t be doing the things that help you feel better. Loneliness may ensue.

*I’m not sure there is a magic potion for this. One of the things I miss about my life before pregnancy was going out at night with friends to listen to live music. Now, I wouldn’t want to be in a smoky venue breathing secondhand smoke or being out late (too tired!). My concern for my unborn child takes precedence. Try to find other things you enjoy. For me, reading a really great book and spending time outside boosts my mood. Writing, spending time with my mom or a good friend (who is also a mom and has kids in tow) help a lot.

Money/Relationship problems

Pregnancy tends to bring relationship problems to the surface. As mom’s needs change, dad may be reeling to adjust. Even his hormones change during pregnancy (his testosterone levels lower, and his protective/caretaking hormones increase – don’t believe me? Look it up!).

Maybe that’s a good thing. There are probably issues that have been swept under the rug that need to be dealt with before baby’s arrival (when time for communication is more limited).

Pregnancy also brings money concerns with it. While babies raised in a home that values natural parenting don’t cost a lot, there are some unavoidable expenses. There are doctors (with hospital bills) or midwives to pay. There is the maternity clothing mom has to buy. Mom’s income may suddenly change due to pregnancy difficulties. If she’s accustomed to being financially independent, that can bring with it a whole set of emotional struggles for her.

“Nothing is more destined to create deep-seated anxieties in people than the false assumption that life should be free from anxieties.–Fulton J. Sheen”

* Communication is the key here. Life IS going to change after baby. If you pretend that things will be blissful, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. Statistics show that couples are less happy after the arrival of children. Study after study points to couples describing less happiness in their relationship after babies. If you’re going to avoid becoming a divorce statistic, it will take a lot of renegotiating. Mom’s needs will change, and so will dad’s.

When it comes to money struggles, I don’t have any easy answers. But truly, babies don’t have to cost a lot of money and you don’t really need much “stuff” at all to have a happy baby. Buying used, accepting hand-me-downs, asking people for practical gifts when they inquire, etc can help tremendously.

Have you ever experiencing depression during pregnancy? How did you deal with it?

Please share your comments below, and tell a friend about this post if you think it will be helpful.

Recommended Resources:

Cod Liver Oil: Nordic Naturals

Pregnancy Nutrition: The Fit & Healthy Pregnancy Guide
(This book is awesome, so many sources of info about pregnancy nutrition fail miserably and would put a woman into deficiency states. I interviewed the author here. It also has some really good exercises.)

More Posts By Carrie:

Comments

10 Responses to “Pregnancy Depression”

  1. Jen Knox on May 2nd, 2010 10:29 am

    I actually had a pretty good pregnancy, emotionally. I had pre-term labor three times and that was probably the thing that got me down the most because I was fearful and it sort of manifested itself as a slightly depressed feeling. I was upset that I’d gained a lot of weight, but was surprisingly ok with it at the time.

    What did happen was that I had a pretty tough bout of post-partum depression after a really horrible delivery (failure to progress, failed epidurals, emergency c-section, blood transfusion) and some feeding issues for the first 5 weeks. While this isn’t about post-partum, the advice given to me I think rings true for pregnancy depression too and you’ve definitely pointed it out…you have to do what you have to do to relax, take care of yourself and do whatever it takes to put yourself first. It’s not something I was familiar with doing! ;) The best piece of advice, I think, is not to hide that you’re feeling depressed and ask for help. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and talking about it might make some moms-to-be realize that t’s really quite common. That in itself can be a huge relief, to know you aren’t alone and that other moms have been there.

  2. Alaina Frederick on May 2nd, 2010 10:43 am

    Carrie,

    Thank you for writing about this – with my second son I never got help after the baby was born and I often wonder if I was depressed even before he was born. I would lay in bed all day long for weeks on end letting the baby cry. My husband would have to get up with him during the nights and I don’t even remember most of the first few months. He reminds me all the time about how I’d let him go all day without changing him.

    I need help and I never got it. What’s worse is that my husband didn’t know how bad I was and what he was dealing with. So many focus on educating the mom about depression during and after pregnancy – I really think that we should be reaching out to the dads as so often moms just don’t know or they are already in the depression and they don’t care.

  3. carrie on May 2nd, 2010 10:44 am

    Thanks for your comment Jen. I’m very blessed not to have experienced PPD, I think it would be harder to deal with than pregnancy depression because you have the new baby to take care of.

  4. gemma on May 2nd, 2010 12:04 pm

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  5. Tiffany on May 2nd, 2010 3:35 pm

    This is a great article! I know personally I am something of a control freak so having so many unknowns in my life would certainly be a cause for depression. I am lucky that I never really faced this, maybe a few days of PPD but it more like mourning for easier times. Take good care of yourself Carrie and trust that soon you will breathing in that unique baby smell and what could be sweeter than that?

  6. Lisa Benton on May 2nd, 2010 9:03 pm

    Great article! You hit the nail on the head with these insights. I especially liked the first one regarding loss of control, along with the fact that you mention major changes in finances and career. Thanks for being so real!!

  7. Candi on May 3rd, 2010 11:01 am

    Very good article Carrie. I experienced PPD with my daughter and didn’t really realize it until about 9 months after she was born. I never got medication but really focused on trying to eat more healthy and getting out more. I probably should have consulted the doctor about it but I never did. I hope your sadness goes away…I’m sure it’s related to hormonal changes. You have a great husband and beautiful family :)

  8. Stacey on May 3rd, 2010 3:25 pm

    Thank for this article, I was so depressed when pregnant, I had a twin pregnancy and lost one of the babies halfway through. It was tough, no one really understood what I was going through and I live far away so I was alone.

    Its good to know Im not the only one out there feeling this way.

  9. Melinda on May 4th, 2010 7:55 am

    Great post. I struggled with depression during pregnancy with my second daughter. In the year preceding that pregnancy I had lost two babies and, even though I was thrilled to be pregnant, I still hadn’t stopped grieving enough to be really happy.

    I think that is something else not talked about. My father in law told he was sorry about us losing the “eggs” (I was in my first trimester with both). They weren’t eggs, or embryos or anything like that. They were my babies. And my babies died. I grieved. People think you’re crazy to grieve over a miscarriage – just try again and it will be alright.

    *looks around and blushes and gets off soap box*

    Anyway. Thanks for the post, Carrie! I think the more people who talk about these issues the better it is for those who follow in our footsteps.

  10. Jeanine Byers Hoag on May 4th, 2010 2:27 pm

    Hi Carrie!

    When I was pregnant with my son, I wasn’t depressed, but I was quite anxious!! It was an unexpected pregnancy and I was completely unprepared for it. Unfortunately, I remained anxious for the entire pregnancy.

    It is one of the reasons I created my Natural Mom Manifesto. Though it addresses all the things naturally inclined mothers-to-be consider, like attachment parenting, homeschooling, etc., a major section of the eCourse (which is free) is devoted to healing the past and dealing with current anxiety and stress.

    It’s an opportunity to givestressed-out moms-to-be resources I didn’t have!

    It looks like that is what you are doing, too, with this post and with your wide reach, I’m glad you wrote about it, because more moms will see it.

    Jeanine

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