What is it?
When anxiety or depression occurs during pregnancy it is referred to as antenatal depression or antenatal anxiety.
Up to 1 in 10 women and 1 in 20 men experience antenatal depression. Anxiety is thought to be as common, and many parents experience anxiety and depression at the same time. It is normal to experience a degree of anxiety and ‘ups and downs’ when expecting a baby. However, some people develop a more pronounced anxiety or lower mood (depression) which affects their daily life and functioning.
For some people this is the first time they have felt depressed, others may have a depression which predates pregnancy, and may not have been recognised up to that point.
The signs and symptoms of antenatal depression and anxiety can vary and may include:
- Panic attacks (a racing heart, palpitations, shortness of breath, shaking or feeling physically ‘detached’ from your surroundings)
- Persistent, generalised worry, often focused on fears for the health or wellbeing of the baby
- The development of obsessive or compulsive behaviours
- Abrupt mood swings
- Feeling constantly sad, low, or crying for no obvious reason
- Being nervous, ‘on edge’, or panicky
- Feeling constantly tired and lacking energy
- Having little or no interest in all the normal things that bring joy (like time with friends, exercise, eating, or sharing partner time)
- Sleeping too much or not sleeping very well at all
- Losing interest in sex or intimacy
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Being easily annoyed or irritated
- Finding it difficult to focus, concentrate or remember (people with depression often describe this as a
- Engaging in more risk taking behaviour (e.g., alcohol
or drug use)
- Having thoughts of death or suicide
Although the experience of antenatal anxiety and depression will be different for everyone, some common feelings and thoughts expressed by expecting parents include:
- “I’m not supposed to feel like this. Pregnancy is supposed to be a time of great happiness, so why am I so miserable?”
- “I felt numb and lacking emotional connection and it scared me”
- “I couldn’t do anything. I found it hard even to leave the house, I felt so down”
- “My whole relationship to my body changed, and I hated it”
There are a number of factors that can contribute to developing perinatal anxiety and depression. These include:
- History of anxiety and depression
- Family history of mental illness
- Previous reproductive loss (infertility, IVF, miscarriage, termination, stillbirth, death of baby)
- Sleep deprivation
- Pre-existing physical illnesses
- Financial stress
- Relationship stress
- Family violence
- Lack of social support
- History of childhood trauma or neglect
- Isolation and lack of social connections
- Loss and grief issues
- Absence of your own mother or mothering figure
Treatment & support
There are treatments, supports and services available to help you through this experience. If symptoms last for more than two weeks, it’s time to seek support.
If you’re concerned about what is happening to you, you can:
- Confide in your partner, a trusted friend or family member
- Let your GP or other trusted health professional know what you’re experiencing
- Taking it easy by relaxing when possible
- Talk to other parents who have recovered from antenatal anxiety or depression
What you can do
If you are worried about someone close to you, you can:
- Gently ask if they are able or willing to share what is going on
- Reassure them that they are not alone. There are things that can be done to help
- Suggest that they speak to their GP, other trusted health professional
Counselling is highly recommended to anyone suffering from antenatal depression. It can be a very effective way to express and explain in your own words what you are feeling. It can also be effective in that it gives your GP or other health professional an insight into the symptoms and their severity.
If you’re worried you could have antenatal anxiety or depression, be assured that many other women and men have come through this experience to find joy and fulfilment as a parent. You are not alone, and you don’t have to go through it alone.
The information and advice found on this website aims to reflect current medical knowledge and practice. However, this is not a substitute for clinical judgement and individual medical advice. The website authors accept no responsibility for any consequences arising from relying upon the information contained on this website.
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