(Note: this post about pregnancy depression should in no way be construed as medical advice. If you are experiencing serious mood changes, please see a licensed health care provider.)
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.
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.
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.
Your relationships will change. Your finances and employment will change. LIFE will change. Some of this 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 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. 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 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 long 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 look more or less the same. Not only are you gaining weight, but you can’t shop at your favorite stores, wear vintage or your 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.
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. If you’re being grouchy with your loved ones, you feel guilty and disappointed with yourself, which makes things worse.
* 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 are having a hard time and to please not take grouchiness personally. Touch the people you love to get endorphins flowing. Move your body. Ask for what you need, whether it be a back rub or help with the household chores.
Especially if you have several kids already, it can be tricky 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.
Since 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 zero 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 eat only 3 meals a day and meet my nutritional needs during pregnancy and 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 to get through the day, and then feeling dead dog tired by 8 p.m. at night isn’t uncommon during pregnancy. You can’t go 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.
I told a friend the other day that I’ve never had an unwanted baby, but I’ve sure had unwanted pregnancies! No matter how much you love children and view them as a blessing, sometimes pregnancies happen when you weren’t planning 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 life will eventually return to a new normal. Plus babies are so much fun. If we didn’t have some of this postpartum 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 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 a friend help a lot.
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).
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 don’t have to cost a lot, there are some unavoidable expenses. There are doctors, 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 will 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 says that couples describe 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. 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 for Pregnancy Depression:
Cod Liver Oil: Nordic Naturals
Interview with Kathleen Kendall-Tacket on depression and breastfeeding
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 that could trigger mood problems.)