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Depression during pregnancy

For many women, pregnancy is a joyous time, but for others, feelings of sadness can creep in. 

If you've been feeling that way, you're certainly not alone. It's not unusual for women to get depressed when they're pregnant. 

Maybe that's not something moms-to-be typically talk about, but it really should be. Here's why: Untreated depression can harm moms and babies. So it's important to know the signs of depression. And if you're depressed, take steps that can help you feel better again.

The negative effects of depression during pregnancy

Everyone—including moms-to-be—has a down day now and then. But depression is worse than that. Depression can drain your energy and make it more difficult for you to take care of yourself. As a result, it could even put your health and the health of your pregnancy at risk. 

According to March of Dimes, depression during pregnancy can cause you to:

  • Eat poorly.
  • Not gain enough weight.
  • Have trouble sleeping.
  • Miss prenatal visits.
  • Not follow medical instructions.
  • Use harmful substances such as tobacco, alcohol or illegal drugs.

What's more, depression during pregnancy can raise the risk of:

  • Premature birth.
  • Low birth weight.
  • Problems during pregnancy.

What's the cause?

We don't know what causes depression, but it may involve a chemical imbalance in the brain. If you've had depression before, you're more likely to have it while you're pregnant. 

Other causes of depression include dealing with a lot of stress; having other illnesses, or alcohol or drug problems; going through a hard time in your life, such as relationship or money problems; or having a family history of the disease. 

Understanding the signs of depression

You should never ignore depression. According to the March of Dimes, a person who is depressed feels sad, hopeless or overwhelmed. They'll also have other symptoms that last two weeks or longer. These other symptoms include:

  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much.
  • Lack of interest in things you usually enjoy.
  • Feelings of guilt.
  • Loss of energy.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • Restlessness.
  • Thoughts about suicide. 

How to get help

Other conditions besides depression can cause some of these signs and symptoms. But if you have any of them, let your provider know right away. (If you're thinking about hurting yourself, your first call should be to 911.)

Some options for treating depression include counseling (talk therapy), medications or both. Here's a closer look:

  • In talk therapy, a counselor can suggest changes you might make to help you feel better. Counseling can take place one-on-one or in a group therapy setting. 
  • Antidepressants are sometimes needed to treat depression. But there may be a low risk of birth defects or other health problems for your baby. If your provider recommends antidepressants, together you can discuss the risks and benefits and decide what's best. 

More pregnancy news

Pregnancy hormones can cause mood changes that differ from depression. Learn more about the mood swings that are common during pregnancy and how to cope.

Reviewed 1/15/2022

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