Even during the most normal of times, pregnancy can be stressful. Throw in a pandemic and mental health stressors can climb for both first-time and experienced mothers.
Pregnant women may feel conflicted about admitting to mental distress during what is supposed to be a time of joy. But anxiety and depression during pregnancy, along with postpartum depression, is extremely common—and treatable.
Signs of Anxiety and Depression
The signs and symptoms of increasing mental health struggles are not the same for every woman. Some women may feel incredibly sad or worried all the time while others may have changes in sleep patterns that increasingly affect their mood to some degree. Here are some signs to be on the lookout for:
- Changes in appetite unrelated to pregnancy, like losing interest in food
- Extreme anxiety or worrying
- Feeling hopeless
- Having persistent negative thoughts of worst-case scenarios
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Thoughts of suicide
Anything that is interfering with your daily life in a negative way could be a worrisome sign. Also, partners of pregnant women should take note of what to look for. Often women will mistake signs of increasing depression as normal exhaustion and brain fog, but their partner may be able to identify when something more serious is happening. Depression and anxiety not only affect the woman going through the pregnancy, but her other family members as well.
Small Changes May Help
If you’re feeling overly anxious or sad, there are a number of easy things you can do to try to boost your mood. Physicians often say, “Go get some exercise,” and that’s because multiple studies have shown physical activity helps improve the body’s stress response. There’s also more and more research indicating that getting out into nature correlates strongly with better mental health.
That means simply taking a walk outside, whether in your neighborhood or a park, can be a great way to try and shake off feelings of gloom and doom. Eating a healthy, balanced diet can also help.
Look for leafy green vegetables or oily fish that are high in probiotics, folic acid, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids. Increasing research shows gut health and mental health go hand in hand—plus, it’s good for your baby.
The third thing women should do is build up their support network. Friends, families, and support groups of other new moms can help get you through your hardest days.
A lot of times women, especially professional women, feel like they have to handle everything and be a “supermom,” but that myth can be incredibly damaging. That’s why it’s key to have a network you can depend on when you are struggling, even though that’s a really hard thing to share, especially if your friends and family see you as someone that's very competent and very capable.
Getting Medical Help Is Safe
If you feel overwhelmed, stressed and are struggling to cope, don’t keep it to yourself—reach out to your doctor. Women shouldn’t suffer needlessly because there is help out there.
Many women experiencing these issues may find help with talk therapy, antidepressants or a combination of the two. And most medications prescribed for mental health struggles are safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Antidepressants have been around for a very long time, and they have very little effect during pregnancy.
Women who have experienced depression or anxiety at any point in their life are more likely to experience it during pregnancy. If you are already on antidepressants, you should not stop taking them during pregnancy unless your physician tells you to. It’s also a good idea to let your doctor know about your past struggles as soon as you know that you are pregnant. In fact, if you had any other medical condition, you would likely treat it with medication. Mood stabilizers should not be any different, the number one complication of pregnancy is a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder.
If you need help, make an appointment with your healthcare provider.
If you or a loved one have thoughts of harming yourself, please text 211 (California State Suicide Text Hotline), or call 1.800.273.8255 (National Suicide Hotline number) for immediate help.