Prenatal Depression: You Are Not Alone
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Prenatal Depression: You Are Not Alone

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Being pregnant is an incredible milestone in your life, but it’s not always easy. Pregnancy is a nine-month journey that can have many emotional ups and downs, including depression.

Depression can affect anyone at any time, even those who are carrying a child. It’s OK if you don’t feel overwhelming joy during pregnancy. Prenatal depression is a serious mental health condition that can add emotional and psychological challenges to the experience. You may feel guilty or ashamed to speak up about your negative thoughts and feelings while pregnant. But you’re not alone. 

We’ll talk about what prenatal depression is and the commonality of the disorder. Then you’ll learn the signs to look for and how to tell the difference between prenatal depression and regular pregnancy mood swings.

What is prenatal depression?

Prenatal depression is a form of clinical depression that affects expectant parents during their pregnancy. It’s characterized by overwhelming and persistent negative thoughts and emotions, especially revolving around the baby and parental capabilities. 

There isn’t a direct cause of prenatal depression. It doesn’t mean that you’re not mentally or emotionally fit to give birth and raise a child. It’s likely due to a variety of emotional, physical and environmental factors that are impacted by your pregnancy that are out of your control. 

Prenatal depression can occur at any time during pregnancy. It’s important for pregnant individuals experiencing symptoms of depression to seek support from healthcare professionals to manage their condition effectively.

Risk factors for prenatal depression include but are not limited to:

  • Financial struggles
  • Lack of support from loved ones
  • Previous depression or anxiety diagnosis
  • Unexpected pregnancy
  • Going to be a single mother
  • History of domestic violence

Prenatal depression is included in perinatal depression, which refers to depression symptoms that occur during pregnancy as well as several weeks after giving birth, known as postpartum depression.

How common is prenatal depression?

The prevalence of prenatal depression is similar to the overall depression rate in the U.S. adult population. Prenatal depression affects approximately 7% of pregnant women.

Depression is more commonly diagnosed in women than in men, with women being diagnosed at about twice the rate of men

Symptoms and challenges of prenatal depression

Many signs and symptoms of depression overlap with those of pregnancy, such as fatigue and weight gain. That might make it easy to shrug off potential symptoms of prenatal depression. By recognizing the signs and symptoms of prenatal depression, you can be proactive about proper treatment.

Signs and symptoms of prenatal depression include:

  • Excessive, persistent worry or anxiety about your baby that may interfere with daily functioning
  • Persistent feelings of hopelessness
  • Anhedonia, or loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Feeling guilty, particularly about your own feelings during pregnancy
  • Not following prenatal care
  • Refusal to believe reassurance from others
  • Smoking, drinking alcohol or doing illicit drugs
  • Changes in appetite

The difference between pregnancy mood swings and prenatal depression

Mood swings are one of the most common pregnancy symptoms. It’s not unusual to experience feelings of joy one moment then find yourself nearly in tears the next. In fact, it’s expected. Mood swings during pregnancy stem from hormonal changes affecting the neurotransmitters in your brain that contribute toward mood regulation. They can also be the result of metabolism changes, fatigue and physical discomfort. External factors like relationship conflicts, anxiety about parenthood and financial concerns can play a role in mood swings as well.

The difference between pregnancy mood swings and prenatal depression lies in the intensity, duration and impact of the symptoms. Prenatal depression involves persistent and more severe feelings of sadness, hopelessness or anxiety that last for at least two weeks or longer. These feelings can significantly impact a person’s daily life and affect their ability to function normally.

It can be hard to interpret emotions during pregnancy, particularly if it’s your first one. If you or a loved one is struggling with intense mood swings during pregnancy, you deserve help.

Speak openly with your physician or obstetrician about your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. They can provide valuable insights to help identify signs of prenatal depression and guide you toward appropriate treatment.

Lightfully Behavioral Health can help feel less alone during prenatal depression

Everyone deserves mental health care and support throughout their life, especially during big life changes, such as pregnancy. As parents, there’s often a tendency to put ourselves last. However, prioritizing your mental health before, during and after pregnancy could be one of the most important gifts you could ever give your child – and yourself. 

If you’re experiencing symptoms of prenatal depression, the right resources and support system can help. Not only will you feel less alone, but addressing your systems can restore your excitement for parenthood.

At Lightfully, our treatment can help alleviate your prenatal depression symptoms using evidence-based, clearly defined, data-driven and whole-person-centered care. We help you look at the underlying causes of your prenatal depression. We’ll also help you develop the tools and coping strategies you need to alleviate the symptoms throughout your pregnancy journey.

Change is possible. Once you talk to your physician or obstetrician about your symptoms, visit our Contact Us page to ask about an assessment. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you who’s ready for parenthood.

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