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Depression and Pregnancy: The Stakes are High

Major depression is a serious mental health issue that affects both men and women. It can be devastating to cope with and the sufferer often feels hopeless. When a woman is pregnant, however, as well as depressed, there is a completely new element to the mental illness. Whether a woman suffered from depression before pregnancy, or develops it during gestation, there can be consequences for both the mother and the baby.

Major Depression

Depression, which is also called major depression, clinical depression, and major depressive disorder, is a serious mental illness that causes a person to feel a persistent sense of sadness and a loss of interest in life. The sufferer may also experience real physical symptoms in addition to changing emotions. Major depression is much more than a simple, short-term bout of feeling blue. When someone is clinically depressed, she cannot simply snap out of it or cheer up. Recovery requires treatment with counseling and medication that is long term.

It may not be immediately obvious if you or someone you know is truly suffering from a clinical case of depression. Look for the following symptoms and if you suspect this mental illness, get help immediately.

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, unhappiness, and helplessness
  • A loss of interest in normal activities and in hobbies and interests
  • Frustration over small matters or a feeling of restlessness and inability to sit still
  • Changes in sleeping patterns such as excessive sleeping or insomnia
  • Changes in eating habits: eating too much or a reduced appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating, focusing, thinking, or remembering things
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Inexplicable physical symptoms, such as pain

The main type of treatment for major depression is prescription antidepressant medications. There are several different types and categories of antidepressants and if your doctor feels you should try them, you may have to try a few before you find the one that works best for you. Psychotherapy is also often used in treatment of depression. This involves talking to a professional therapist, psychologist, or counselor about your feelings and about how to change behaviors to improve your condition. In extreme cases of depression, hospitalization may be required.

Depression during Pregnancy

Depression during pregnancy presents several complications, not least of which is the fact that the mother faces emotional problems at a time when she is expected to be glowing and happy. If you are suffering with depression while pregnant, you should know that you are not alone. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, around 13 percent of pregnant women are also experiencing depression. Although you may feel the pressure to be happy while pregnant, know that this is not possible for everyone and that there is nothing wrong with you.

One possible complication of being depressed during pregnancy is premature birth. A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that while other complications were not more likely, the risk of premature birth is increased when the mother is suffering from untreated major depression or is taking certain antidepressant medications. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, in particular were found to increase the risk of premature birth.

The researchers looked at around 200 pregnant women, and categorized them in three different groups: those with no depression, those with depression and taking SSRIs, and those with depression and not taking medications. They found that among the women with depression, both treated and untreated, 20 percent delivered babies prematurely. This is compared to only four percent among mothers with no depression at all. The results are similar to those found in other studies.

Another concern regarding depression during pregnancy is the mother’s ability to care for herself properly. If you are depressed, you are less likely to follow your doctor’s instructions, to eat well, or to sleep well. You are also more likely to abuse substances such as alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs. All of these behaviors can cause problems for the developing fetus. Poor health in the mother is linked to poor health, low birth weight, and birth defects in the infant.

Untreated depression during pregnancy can also lead to depression after birth, called postpartum depression. Postpartum is a devastating form of depression. If you suffer from this mental illness, you may feel unconnected to your baby, you may not care for it properly, and you may not bond with your child. Add to this the fact that you will feel bad about yourself as a mother and you have a nasty cycle that can have terrible effects.

Depression on its own is a serious mental illness requiring treatment over a lifetime. When it is concurrent with pregnancy, the stakes are even higher. Getting good treatment, discussing medications with your doctor, and doing what you can to stay healthy are essential for you and for your baby.

Posted in Depression

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