"What Is Prenatal Depression?
Prenatal depression, also called perinatal depression, is depression experienced by women during pregnancy. Like postpartum depression, prenatal (or perinatal) depression isn’t just a feeling of sadness—mothers who experience this mental health disorder may also feel anxious and angry.
You've likely heard of postpartum depression—and that's a good thing. The more that postpartum depression is talked about and understood, the more mothers will seek the help they need so that they can feel better and live full and healthy lives as new moms.
But prenatal depression is a maternal mood disorder that hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention as it should. While prenatal depression can be treated, many expecting mothers don’t even know that it’s a “thing” and therefore don’t seek treatment for it.
Many feel ashamed to even share how they are feeling. After all, you are supposed to be overjoyed and excited when you are expecting a baby, right? It’s easy to feel guilt and shame when you are feeling the exact opposite.
Here’s what you should know about prenatal depression, including how common it is, what to look for in terms of symptoms, and most importantly, how to get help.
How Common Is Prenatal Depression?
Like postpartum depression, which impacts as many as 1 in 7 new moms, prenatal depression is actually quite common.
According to a journal article by Maria Muzik, MD, and Stefana Borovska, published in Mental Health in Family Medicine, 13% of pregnant moms experience depression.
As the authors note, perinatal depression (both prenatal and postpartum) is even more common among mothers facing adverse experiences, such as a history of depression or economic hardship.
“The prevalence of perinatal depression is even higher in vulnerable groups with certain risk factors,” the authors explain. “Young, single mothers, experiencing complications, with a history of stress, loss or trauma are far more likely to succumb to depression. Furthermore, one study found that up to 51% of women who experience socioeconomic disadvantage also report depressive symptoms during pregnancy.”
It's important to note prenatal depression doesn’t discriminate: You can experience it whether or not you have pre-existing risk factors. Always remember there is no shame in experiencing a serious bout of depression during pregnancy, and you are not alone.
Similar to postpartum depression, experts can’t pinpoint one particular cause of prenatal depression, but have hypothesized that it’s likely caused by a confluence of factors—a “perfect storm” of triggers that come to a head for some mothers during their pregnancies.
Either way, it’s important to note that whatever caused your prenatal depression, it most certainly wasn’t your fault. There was nothing you did wrong, and you are not a bad mom (or going to be a bad mom).
“Depression and anxiety during pregnancy or after birth don't happen because of something you do or don't do—they are medical conditions,” notes the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP).
“Although we don't fully understand the causes of these conditions, researchers think depression and anxiety during this time may result from a mix of physical, emotional, and environmental factors,” they add.
Prenatal depression manifests differently for every mom—you may even experience it differently from one pregnancy to another. It’s important to understand that anytime you feel overwhelmed by your emotions, unable to function in your day-to-day life, or just “off,” you should reach out to discuss your feelings with a trusted loved one or medical provider.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of prenatal depression:
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database."
Depression During Pregnancy Affect Infant’s Brain Anatomy, But No Change with Prenatal Exposure to SSRIs
By MGH Center for Women's Mental Health | June 22, 2021
"When a woman comes in for a consultation regarding the use of medications during pregnancy, we spend most of our time reviewing the potential risks of exposure to medications during pregnancy. However, we must also include a discussion of the effects of untreated psychiatric illness in the mother on the developing child, for there is a growing body of literature which demonstrates that what happens in utero, while the fetus is developing, may have effects on the child that persist into adulthood.
A number of recent studies have examined the brain anatomy of infants born to depressed mothers. Neuroimaging has revealed changes in connectivity between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex (reviewed in Duan et al, 2019), and it is hypothesized that these alterations are responsible for the children’s increased vulnerability to anxiety and depression.
In a recent study Sethnaa and colleagues add to this literature, using MRI to compare regional brain volumes in 31 3-to-6-month-old infants born to women with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder (MDD, confirmed using the SCID) and 33 infants born to women without a current or past psychiatric diagnosis. The study recruited women during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy from antenatal clinics and perinatal psychiatric services in South London.
MRI assessments were conducted in infants between the ages of 3 and 6 months. Compared to infants born to non-depressed mothers, infants born to mothers with depression during pregnancy have larger subcortical grey matter volumes and smaller midbrain volumes. This finding persisted after adjusting for potential confounders, including medication use during pregnancy, postpartum depressive symptoms, and infant sex.
These findings are consistent with other studies looking at different types of insults, such as hypoxia and substance use, suggesting that these subcortical structures are particularly susceptible to changes in the in utero environment. The authors note that this finding of an association between maternal antenatal depression and midbrain development is not surprising given the midbrain’s role in stress regulation."
By: Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH | June 14, 2021
"Affirmations are statements that you use intentionally to instill a sense of positivity and purpose in your mind about a particular subject. You can use these short phrases and sentences to help yourself focus on and accept a positive message that you wish to remember.Affirmations are an example of using positive thinking to set an intention and increase the likelihood of positive results. Even better, they are simple to do, free, and accessible to all.
Why They Work
While there is no guarantee that affirmations will actually change the outcome of your pregnancy, some studies suggest that affirmations can reduce stress and anxiety—which can make it easier to rest, eat, and avoid issues such as headaches and fatigue. Plus, positive thoughts tend to cultivate positive feelings, which may help to make your pregnancy experience more enjoyable and relaxed.
Studies show that using positive affirmations impacts brain pathways, increasing activity in the areas of the mind responsible for self-worth, self-regulation, and core values. Researchers believe that making a regular practice of saying affirming statements can effectively shift your focus from negative emotions or stressors to your own expansive capacity to cope, bolstering your confidence and bringing you new ideas, strategies, energy, and hope for the future.
Write Your Own
The beauty of positive affirmations is that you can write your own to use whenever you like. They can be said out loud or silently in your head, quietly whispered to yourself, or written down. In lieu of writing your own, you can also use one you have read or heard elsewhere. If it makes you feel strong, positive, and hopeful, then you're on the right track.
Remember, your affirmation should be in the present tense, as if what you wish to happen is already occurring. For example, someone who is worried about coping with childbirth might say, "I am strong." A person who is trying to get pregnant and having difficulty might say, "I am a good parent to my child."
This person might decide to repeat the affirmation every morning as a reminder of their goal and to foster their hope for this desired outcome. During infertility treatments, they might visualize this affirmation while undergoing procedures and tests, as well. During pregnancy, daily pregnancy affirmations may serve to enhance the mother's bond to their growing baby while also alleviating the worry that something might go wrong.
How to Do It
Anything that speaks to you can work as an affirmation. If you're unsure, brainstorm statements that connect to the feelings, values, and intentions you want to affirm. If you have a specific worry or negative thought that keeps coming to mind, try flipping it around to a positive one.
If you catch yourself thinking, "I can't do this," counter that with, "I can do this." "Childbirth is scary" becomes "childbirth is beautiful." Simple is good. Setting your positive intention can literally change your mind.
To help you get started writing your own affirmations, consider beginning with phrases like the following:
By MGH Center for Women's Mental Health | June 10th, 2021
"When we meet with women for perinatal psychiatry consultations, we now ask about vaccinations. It’s not something we typically do, but after the last year, we are now getting involved in their decisions regarding vaccination against COVID-19. Just as we counsel women to avoid alcohol and to consistently take their prenatal vitamins, providing information on the COVID-19 vaccine is an important aspect of promoting the health of pregnant and postpartum women.
Considering a growing body of evidence indicating that pregnant women are more likely to have certain manifestations of severe COVID-19 illness, including admission to the ICU and mechanical ventilation, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has urged the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to include pregnant and lactating women in the high-priority populations for COVID-19 vaccine allocation. ACOG clearly states that all pregnant and lactating people should be allowed to receive the vaccine, and that their decision to do so should be based on a careful discussion of risks and benefits with their healthcare provider.
From our vantage point, there are other benefits to the COVID-19 vaccine. During the past year, before the vaccination was available, we watched as pregnant and postpartum patients undertook the most extreme forms of lockdown. Many of these women were literally housebound: never leaving the house and cutting off contact with friends and family, while at the same time taking on more childcare responsibilities as outside care providers and day care centers were no longer available. And all the while wondering what would happen if they or a member of their family felt ill?
We are yet to fully appreciate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on perinatal women, but preliminary studies indicate that during the lockdown, pregnant and postpartum women reported higher levels of stress, loneliness, depression, and anxiety. And this is not really a surprise. So many of the things we typically recommend to reduce stress and social isolation, such as exercising regularly or spending time with friends and family, vanished.
While it might seem like the pandemic is fading into the distance, the resurgence of the pandemic in places like India and Brazil where immunization rates are low, we cannot be so sure about this. So far the most successful way to avoid becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 is to get vaccinated.
A recent article in Medscape, however, suggests that mothers appear to be less likely to get vaccinated than others in the general population. According to a recent poll from Morning Consult, about two-thirds of adults in the US have either already been vaccinated against COVID-19 or plan to do so. In contrast, mothers are the most likely to be hesitant about the vaccine. In this study, 51% of the mothers reported that they are unwilling to get vaccinated or are uncertain about getting vaccinated, at 51% (compared to 32% of other women and 29% of fathers)."
By familydoctor.org editorial staff.
"The amount of sleep you get while you’re pregnant not only affects you and your baby, but could impact your labor and delivery as well. Lack of sleep during pregnancy has been tied to a number of complications, including preeclampsia (a serious condition that affects your blood pressure and kidneys). This condition could result in pre-mature birth. Now is the time to take sleep seriously.When you become pregnant, one of the first symptoms you may notice is being overwhelmingly tired, even exhausted. Sleep will be irresistible to you. You can most likely blame your changing hormones for this, especially the extra progesterone that comes with being pregnant. In the beginning, pregnancy also lowers your blood pressure and blood sugar, which can make you feel tired.
Shortly after the first trimester, your energy should return. Sometime during the third trimester, you’ll begin to feel tired again. Some of this feeling can be blamed on the sheer physical exhaustion that comes from growing a baby and the stress that it puts on your body. However, your weariness during this time is in direct relation to your inability to get a good night’s sleep.
Even if you’ve never had trouble sleeping before, you may find it much more difficult while you’re pregnant.
Path to improved health
Sleep should never be seen as a luxury. It’s a necessity — especially when you’re pregnant.
In fact, women who are pregnant need a few more hours of sleep each night or should supplement nighttime sleep with naps during the day, according to the National Institutes of Health.
For many pregnant women, getting 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night becomes more difficult the farther along they are in their pregnancy. There are many physical and emotional obstacles to sleep in this stage. Anxiety about being a mom or about adding to your family can keep you awake. Fear of the unknown or about the delivery can cause insomnia. Plus, there is the getting up every few hours to go to the bathroom. It also can be difficult to find a comfortable position in bed, especially if you are a former stomach sleeper.
If any of the following is keeping you awake at night, try these strategies for getting a good night’s sleep.
At some point in their pregnancy, most pregnant women suffer from heartburn, which is a form of indigestion that feels like burning in your chest and throat. Heartburn can wake you up in the middle of the night and ruin a good sleep. Minimize the chance for this by avoiding spicy foods. Also, cut down on rich foods for dinner.
Restless leg syndrome
Few things are more distracting than restless legs syndrome (RLS), especially when you are trying to go to sleep. While you can’t take traditional RLS medicines when you are pregnant, you can try to reduce the feelings of RLS with a good prenatal vitamin that includes folate and iron.
Morning sickness — at bedtime
Despite the name, morning sickness can occur any time and is often worse later in the day. Try eating a few crackers at bedtime and keep a stash in your nightstand in case a wave of nausea hits as you are trying to go to sleep.
There are many ways insomnia can creep in and compromise your sleep time. Often, it’s just about being able to shut down your brain. Most medicines for insomnia should not be taken while you are pregnant. Instead, try journaling some of the things you are anxious about. Write down what is stressing you and try to let it go as you go to sleep. Also, stop drinking caffeine by early afternoon. Try not to take long naps during the day. Doing any — or all — of these things can help ease you back into sleep at a reasonable bedtime.
Not many things can wake you as quickly and painfully as a leg cramp. Sometimes called a charley horse, these cramps are usually a contraction of your calf muscle. Less frequently, they can occur in your thigh or your foot. These can plague you in pregnancy because of a lack of minerals, especially calcium and magnesium. They also are more common if you are dehydrated. To guard against leg cramps, make sure that you continue to take your prenatal vitamin and drink plenty of water and other fluids during the day.
Finding a comfortable position
As your body grows, sleep becomes a little harder to come by, especially in the third trimester. It’s difficult to get comfortable. It’s harder to move around and shift positions in bed. If you’ve been a stomach or back sleeper, it can be hard to adjust to sleeping on your side. The best position to sleep in when you’re pregnant is on your left side. This improves blood flow and, therefore, nutrient flow to your baby. Try lying on your left side, knees bent with a pillow between your knees. It also helps to tuck a pillow under your stomach, as well, for extra support.
Frequent bathroom breaks
With the baby pushing down on your bladder, you likely can’t make it all night without waking at least once to go to the bathroom. You can help minimize nighttime bathroom trips by cutting down on how much you drink in the evenings. Just be sure to get adequate hydration during the day. Bright lights can make it harder for you to fall back asleep, so use nightlights so that you will not need to turn on the lights when you get up to go to the bathroom.
In addition to minimizing the common obstacles to getting a good night’s sleep, there are also ways to encourage good sleep habits. This is called good sleep hygiene.
Things to consider
Sleep is essential to health. Lack of sleep is associated with many chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, obesity, depression, and even heart disease. If you’re pregnant, not getting an adequate amount of sleep can put you at risk for some serious conditions. Lack of sleep can also complicate your delivery.
In one research study, pregnant women who slept less than six hours at night late in pregnancy had longer labors and were more likely to have cesarean deliveries.
Another study reports that the sleep you get in your first trimester can affect your health in the third trimester. Women who don’t get enough sleep (less than five hours per night) in the first trimester are nearly 10 times more likely to develop preeclampsia late in pregnancy. Preeclampsia is a condition associated with pregnancy-related high blood pressure, swelling of hands and feet, and protein in urine.
If you’ve ever had a sleep disorder, it could be made worse by pregnancy. If you’ve had sleep apnea in the past, your snoring may get worse during pregnancy. This is especially true if you were already overweight when you became pregnant. Expect that RLS will worsen during this time. Heartburn will intensify, too."
"For a new mom-to-be, experiencing sleep deprivation after the baby is born is a given. But you probably didn’t realize that it could also occur during the first trimester of pregnancy.
Most women experience sleep problems during pregnancy. Pregnant women tend to get more sleep during their first trimesters (hello, early bedtime) but experience a big drop in the quality of their sleep. It turns out that pregnancy can make you feel exhausted all day long. It can also cause insomnia at night.
Here are some of the most common culprits for insomnia during early pregnancy, plus a few tips to help you get a better night’s sleep.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia means you have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. Women can experience insomnia during all stages of pregnancy, but it tends to be more common in the first and third trimesters. Between midnight bathroom breaks, out-of-control hormones, and pregnancy woes such as congestion and heartburn, you might be spending more time out of your bed than in it. The good news: While insomnia might be miserable, it’s not harmful to your baby.
Sheer logistics play a role as well. By the end of a pregnancy, many women have a hard time just getting comfortable enough to sleep well. During the first trimester, you might not have much of a baby belly to accommodate, but there are other issues that can prevent a good night’s sleep.
What causes insomnia during pregnancy?
Expecting? There are many reasons you might be wide awake in the wee hours. These can include:
It can be difficult to distract yourself from these thoughts, but try to remember that worrying isn’t productive. Instead, try writing down all of your concerns on paper. This will give you a chance to consider possible solutions. If there are no solutions, or there is nothing you can do, turn the page in your journal and focus on another worry. This can help empty your mind so you can rest.
Being up front with your partner about your feelings and worries can also help you feel better.
Develop a bedtime routine
One of the best things you can do to manage insomnia while you’re pregnant is to set up good sleep habits.
Begin by trying to go to bed at the same time every night. Start your routine with something relaxing to help you unwind.
Avoid screen time at least an hour before bed. Blue light from the TV, your mobile phone, or tablet can have an impact on your body’s circadian rhythm. Try reading a book instead.
Taking a soothing bath might also make you sleepy. Just be careful that the temperature isn’t too hot — that can be dangerous for your developing baby. This is especially true during early pregnancy.
To be safe, avoid hot tubs.
Diet and exercise
Diet and exercise can have an impact on your sleep.
Drink plenty of water throughout the day, but minimize drinking after 7 p.m. Try to avoid caffeine starting in the late afternoon.
Eat to sleep
Eat a healthy dinner, but try to enjoy it slowly to reduce your chances of heartburn. Eating an early dinner can also help, but don’t go to bed hungry. Eat a light snack if you need to eat something late in the evening. Something high in protein can keep your blood sugar levels steady through the night. A warm glass of milk can help you feel sleepy, too."