It May Surprise You

There is definitely a lot of awareness about postpartum depression, which as an OB nurse and mother who experienced it, I'm grateful for. But there's one area of depression we might be overlooking — depression during pregnancy

Pregnant woman depressed |

Photo credit: Tatiana Gladskikh/iStock/360/Getty Images

The truth is, when I look back at the tumultuous time when I unwittingly experienced postpartum depression after the birth of my first daughter, it's clear to me that the issue of depression and anxiety that I experienced didn't suddenly materialize out of nowhere.

Instead, I can follow the signs to discover that my postpartum depression actually occurred much earlier than after her birth. The sleepless nights, the overwhelming sadness, the pressing guilt that told me I would never be a good mother — they all originated during my pregnancy.

And as it would turn out, I wasn't alone.

Depression during pregnancy

Paula Rollo, a mother of two and blogger at Beauty Through Imperfection developed depression and anxiety during both of her pregnancies. "It made me feel out of control, scared and inadequate," Rollo relates. "The depression I had then had to do with things that I hadn't yet dealt with from my past, that was heightened all the more by pregnancy and all the 'normal' stresses, anxieties and even depression that comes with that".

Obstetricians and mental health experts now recognize that depression during pregnancy is one of a group of mental disorders during the pregnant and postpartum period called perinatal depression. It is estimated that around 20 percent of all women will experience some kind of perinatal depression, with many doctors suspecting that the number is actually even higher, as the statistics rely on the self-reported cases of women. And how many mothers want to admit that they are depressed?

The risks of pregnancy depression

Many women fear talking to their health care providers about their depression during pregnancy because of the stigma of being labeled as a bad mother. One mother, who asked to remain anonymous, states that she is suffering from severe depression in her pregnancy, but fears talking to her OB/GYN about it out of the risk that she may be labeled an unfit mother or have her children taken away from her.

Rollo echoes the sentiment. "With my first, I was afraid if I even mentioned it that they would take my baby away. I didn't realize until later that that wasn't true, and I could have asked for help. During pregnancy, it's like everyone expects you to be happy and thrilled, never mind that your hormones are going wild and ghosts from your past are creeping up on you, everything hurts and you are terrified to be a mommy — slap a grin on your face and tell them everything is wonderful. It's like good moms aren't allowed to be depressed, but that's simply not true! Plenty of good moms have dealt with depression or are still dealing with it. It's a normal fact of life for so many people, and we shouldn't be afraid to speak up about it!"

While I certainly understand the stigma that exists for mental disorders — no matter what the type and especially during pregnancy — the truth is, not seeking treatment for depression during pregnancy puts both a mother and her baby at very real risk for medical complications, such as these.

  • Premature labor
  • Respiratory difficulties
  • Development delays for the baby
  • Interruption of bonding
  • Feeding problems
  • Irritability/anxiousness in babies

Getting help

Rollo recognized that getting help for her depression was an important part of her job as a good mother. She describes realizing that she needed professional help as "just a constant knowing that 'this is not right, I shouldn't be sad and terrified like this'. All new moms are scared, but I knew it wasn't right the way I was experiencing it," she says.

Getting help could be as simple as talking to your pregnancy care provider about your symptoms, and if he or she dismisses your concerns, call a pregnancy help hotline or a local therapist for further assistance. For Rollo, help came in the form of professional counseling and managing her emotions with some lifestyle modifications. "I did my best to eat enough, get outside frequently and be around people whenever I could," she explains.

In the end, it's important for all mothers to realize that while pregnancy can be a time of ups and downs in the emotions department, if your emotions are interfering with your ability to live your day-to-day life, something is not right.

"Pregnancy mood disorders are very treatable and it’s OK to accept support," states psychologist Dr. Sarah Allen, director of the Postpartum Depression Alliance of Illinois who also counsels women in her own office in the Chicago area. "With treatment, you’re going to feel a lot better soon and enjoy motherhood, rather than just hanging in there hoping you will survive.” 

More on pregnancy and depression

Symptoms of postpartum depression
How to prepare for postpartum depression
Young parents more likely to be depressed


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