Depression and Pregnancy Risk Factors

How depression can affect you and your baby

Although pregnancy is a joyful experience for many women, it can also elicit feelings of fear, anxiety and even depression. In fact, research shows that about 7 percent of women experience some level of depression during pregnancy.

What is depression?

Depression is a mood disorder that can result in feelings of sadness, hopelessness and a loss of interest in activities the person normally enjoys. People with depression may find it difficult to complete everyday tasks or provide adequate care for themselves.

Depression affects women twice as often as it affects men and tends to peak during a woman’s reproductive years.

Risk factors for depression during pregnancy

While the exact cause of depression is still unknown, doctors believe that chemical imbalances in the brain and fluctuating hormone levels may be contributing factors. Some hormones are thought to affect the parts of the brain that control emotions.

Genetics may also play a role, as depression is more common in people who have family members with depression.

You may also be at a higher risk of depression during pregnancy if:

  • You suffer from anxiety

  • You’ve had issues with depression in the past

  • Your partner is physically, verbally or emotionally abusive

  • Your pregnancy wasn’t planned
  • You don’t have a good support system in place

  • You’re experiencing a high level of ongoing stress

  • You have diabetes (high blood sugar)

If you think you’re experiencing any of these issues and are worried about how they might affect your mental health during pregnancy, be sure to discuss your concerns with your OB-GYN.

Signs and symptoms of depression

Many of the symptoms of depression in pregnant women are similar to those experienced by the larger population. Below are some of the most common signs that you may be experiencing depression.

Emotional changes

Emotional symptoms of depression may include:

  • Feelings of overwhelming sadness or hopelessness

  • Mood swings

  • Crying for no known reason
  • Feelings of being worthless or unloved

  • Thoughts of suicide

Physical changes

Physical symptoms of depression may include:

  • Increased or decreased appetite

  • Low energy

  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of motivation to care for yourself

  • Lack of interest in spending time with friends and family

  • Lack of interest in activities you normally enjoy

  • Persistent head, stomach or body aches

Signs of depression during pregnancy

Feelings of depression in pregnant women may also lead to:

  • Excessive worry about your pregnancy or your baby’s health

  • Feelings of inadequacy and doubts about your ability to be a good parent

  • Missed prenatal appointments and insufficient prenatal care

Make sure to talk with your OB-GYN if you think you’re experiencing any symptoms of depression during pregnancy.

If you’re having suicidal thoughts, call your doctor, a mental health professional or 911 immediately. Help is also available 24 hours a day through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Does depression during pregnancy affect your baby?

Depression can affect your baby during pregnancy if it prevents you from taking adequate care of yourself. Your baby depends on you for all the nutrients they need to grow and develop. So if your depression causes you to eat a poor diet, smoke, drink alcohol or take illegal drugs, your baby's health could be at risk.

Depending on the circumstances, depression can increase a baby's risk of:

  • Premature birth (before 37 weeks of pregnancy)

  • Being small for gestational age (weighing less than average)

Depression that continues or develops after birth, called postpartum depression, can make it difficult to care for yourself or your infant and prevent you from forming a loving bond with your baby, which can affect your baby’s development. Babies that are unable to form secure attachments may have:

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Developmental delays

  • Difficulty interacting with others and being held

As they grow older, children with depressed mothers may be more likely to have:

  • Difficulty socializing with peers

  • Difficulty following rules
  • Learning issues

  • Feelings of aggression, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues

Treatment for depression during pregnancy

Treatment for depression is available during pregnancy, and the sooner you get help, the better the outcome is for you and your baby. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, treatment options may include:

  • Counseling, psychotherapy or support groups. Individual therapy and support groups have been shown to be effective at helping many people cope with feelings of depression. Ask your doctor if you’d like help locating a support group near you.
  • Medications. Some antidepressant medications are approved for use during pregnancy and are available through a prescription from your doctor. If you were prescribed an antidepressant before becoming pregnant, make sure to talk with your doctor to check if the medication is approved for use during pregnancy, as some antidepressant medications have been known to cause birth defects.

The most important thing you can do if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression during pregnancy is talk with your doctor. Getting the right treatment and support can make all the difference for you and your baby. We know depression can be a very isolating experience, but you’re not alone–we’re here to help you every step of the way.

At All About Women Obstetrics & Gynecology in Gainesville, Florida, our experienced OB-GYNs are ready to help you and your baby throughout your pregnancy journey. If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression during pregnancy or are worried about developing symptoms, our compassionate doctors can work with you to develop the best course of treatment based on your situation to keep you and your baby healthy and safe.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your options.