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3 Ways Pregnancy Affects Mental Health

Feb 09, 2019

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It is common for women to experience mental health issues like depression and anxiety during pregnancy. Even women who have never experienced symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions can be susceptible to them, as any...

It is common for women to experience mental health issues like depression and anxiety during pregnancy. Even women who have never experienced symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions can be susceptible to them, as any major life change (even positive ones) can take a toll on your emotional health. In this blog, we will discuss three ways pregnancy can affect mental health and cause symptoms of anxiety and depression in pregnancy, and how to get help.

1. Pregnancy Can Trigger a Chemical Change

Women commonly experience postpartum depression after pregnancy. However, research now shows that two-thirds of mothers with severe depression will start experiencing mood shifts during their pregnancy. What was believed to be the result of a dramatic drop in hormone levels after giving birth might have other biological triggers as well, causing some women to experience depression in pregnancy.

Some symptoms of postpartum depression include:

  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Excessive crying
  • Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, or inadequacy
  • Hopelessness 
  • Irritability and anger 
  • Severe mood swings 

If you experience some or all of these symptoms during your pregnancy, you are not alone. In fact, 14–23% of mothers experience some depression symptoms during pregnancy. Know that you have options; and speak to your doctor right away to get help.

2. Pregnancy Can Intensify Existing Mental Health Conditions

Many women who experience depression during or after pregnancy have never experienced symptoms before. However, if you have already been diagnosed with a mental health condition like depression or anxiety, you are more likely to experience symptoms of severe depression and anxiety during and after pregnancy. Don’t lose hope, there is help.

Women with OCD, PTSD, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, and other mental health conditions should work closely with their doctors to take proactive care of their mental health during pregnancy. If you begin to experience worsening symptoms, don’t wait to see a doctor. You have options that can help you get through this challenging time so you can enjoy the motherhood experience.

3. Pregnancy Is Stressful

The stress of being pregnant can also cause or aggravate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. While you are pregnant, your body goes through a lot of changes, which can often be emotionally stressful.

It is common for new mothers to experience anxiety about giving birth and parenting a new child. Some women may also have heightened anxiety if they have experienced pregnancy complications or a miscarriage in the past. Some warning signs of severe depression and/or anxiety may include: 

  • Loss of interest in most activities 
  • Thoughts of harming oneself or others 
  • Sleeping too much or too little 
  • Loss of appetite or excessive overeating 
  • Reckless behavior 

If these fears and stresses become overwhelming and begin to cause more severe symptoms, seek help from a professional right away.

Treatment options

Luckily, pregnant women have many treatment options for mental health conditions present during and after pregnancy. 

Therapy  

Professional counseling may be a good option for mothers who are experiencing fear and anxiety about giving birth and becoming a new mom. Talking to a professional can be very supportive for women who are having a hard time dealing with weight gain, discomfort and the other bodily changes that pregnancy can cause. A professional counselor can teach you coping skills to help you manage your fears and emotions in a healthy and rational way. 

Medication  

Another option may be medication. Antidepressants can help reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and there are quite a few that can be taken during pregnancy. SSRIs, including Prozac, Zoloft, and Celexa, do not cause any risk to the growing fetus. Some women choose to taper off their SSRI as they get closer to giving birth. However, this hasn’t shown any changes to the baby’s health at birth.

The SNRI Effexor hasn’t shown any adverse effects to the fetus when taken during the first trimester, but there is not enough research to determine how SNRIs like Effexor and Cymbalta affect a growing baby, so SNRIs are not recommended for use during pregnancy.

Most mood stabilizers for bipolar disorder can cause adverse effects on the baby, with the exception of Lamictal (lamotrigine), which can safely be taken during pregnancy and does not show any adverse effects on fetal development.

Other drug-free options, like TMS, that don’t affect the bloodstream are still being researched as a treatment for pregnant women with depression, and the results are promising. If you are interested in a noninvasive, drug-free treatment for your depression while pregnant, see a psychiatrist who specializes in this area to explain your options and help you make a decision that is best for you and your baby.

If you take antidepressants or mood stabilizers and are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, then contact us at Serenity Mental Health Centers to schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist to talk about your treatment options during pregnancy.