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Pregnancy & Mental Health

If you are experiencing thoughts of self-harm, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. For non-emergency situations, Postpartum Support International is also a great resource: 1-800-944-4773.

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Pregnancy can be extremely joyful and exciting. However, it can also be extremely emotionally challenging. Expectant mothers can feel stressed, anxious, and depressed. It may be confusing feeling this way, especially with a planned pregnancy. But don’t feel alone. Many women struggle with their mental health while pregnant.

There are quite a few assumptions made when it comes to pregnancy. Some of these include:

  • Getting pregnant is easy
  • All pregnancies are planned
  • All pregnancies are wanted
  • Pregnancy will result in a healthy baby
  • Pregnancy will result in a live baby
  • Being pregnant is a joyful time for a woman

These assumptions can have a significant negative impact on your mental health. When you aren’t “glowing”, and your experience doesn’t align with your expectations, it can be disappointing and depressing.

Mental Health’s Importance:

It is normal to have fears, worries, and negative thoughts during pregnancy. These feelings can be especially distressing if you have experienced a loss in a previous pregnancy.

It can also be stressful thinking about life post-birth. Having a baby causes a monumental shift. While you have nine months to plan, there are a lot of things you can’t control. Having some anxiety about what will happen financially, physically, and emotionally is completely normal.

Postpartum depression was long believed to be something that set in after childbirth. But studies are showing that it can develop before giving birth to your baby. Make sure to pay attention to your emotions both during pregnancy and after.

Risk Factors:

There are certain factors that put you at greater risk of developing mental health conditions during pregnancy. These include:

  • A personal history of mental illness
  • Family history of mental health issues
  • An inadequate support system
  • A history of miscarriage or loss
  • A difficult pregnancy
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Domestic violence

Covid-19 has also made things more difficult for pregnant women. It has heightened anxiety and increased feelings of isolation as women protect themselves from exposure.

There are also many hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy. You might experience mood swings, feel tearful, and be easily irritable. Once your body gets used to the higher hormone levels, these symptoms usually taper off. However, some women experience hormonal mood shifts throughout their pregnancy.

Your physical health can also have a direct impact on your mental health. Severe nausea, headaches, heartburn, digestive issues, or general discomfort can lead to prolonged sadness. This is especially true if the pain is disrupting your everyday life and/or ability to function.

Around 15-21% of pregnant women experience depression or anxiety. This can happen anytime during pregnancy.

Research shows that mental health issues can affect both the mother’s well-being and the outcome of the pregnancy. A fetus with a depressed mother is at increased risk for excessive fetal activity, low birth weight, effects on early brain development, and preterm delivery.

The good news is that both depression and anxiety are highly treatable.

Is it Pregnancy or Something Else?

During pregnancy, you can expect mood swings, sleep disturbances, bladder compression, appetite changes, heartburn, and tiredness. An appropriate amount of worry can also be expected.

Some common symptoms of mental health struggles are low self-esteem, insomnia, fatigue that doesn’t lessen after ample sleep, excessive worry, intrusive thoughts, and/or a loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy.

Treatment:

It is important to get help early. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends screening for depression and anxiety at least once during pregnancy. But you don’t have to wait for your OBGYN to scan you, you can talk to your primary care provider at any time. You can also reach out to a virtual support group or a licensed counselor. There are many pregnancy safe medications that can help you.

If you are experiencing thoughts of self-harm, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. For non-emergency situations, Postpartum Support International is also a great resource: 1-800-944-4773.

If you are struggling with your mental health during pregnancy, you are not alone. Get the help you need and deserve. You can search for a mental health professional here.

About the Author
Kerri-Anne Brown
Licensed Mental Health Counselor

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