Pregnant? Here’s why you need to set aside all that negativity and seek help, if necessary.
Pregnant women undergo significant stress, both psychologically and physiologically. It is especially overwhelming for single mums or those with lack of social support, those who had difficulty becoming pregnant (miscarriage and/or fertility treatments), or if the pregnancy is unplanned or unwanted.
An estimated one in 10 pregnant women experience depression. (Photo: designpics / www.123rf.com)
What is prenatal depression or anxiety?
Prenatal depression, or antenatal depression, is a form of clinical depression that can affect a woman during pregnancy. Women who are depressed during pregnancy are at higher risk for postpartum depression.
According to Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA), about one in 10 pregnant women are likely to experience depression, with anxiety rates believed to be even higher.
Some symptoms of prenatal depression or anxiety listed by PANDA include: panic attacks, persistent worry or fears for the health, abrupt mood swings (feeling sad for no obvious reason/being easily annoyed), being disinterested in the usual activities you used to enjoy, and finding it difficult to focus or remember things. At the extreme, those with antenatal depression might engage in risk behaviour like alcohol, and have thoughts of suicide or death.
Can prenatal depression or anxiety affect my unborn child?
The condition may result in excess hormones like corticotropin-releasing hormone and cortisol passing through the placenta. In turn, this could precipitate preterm labour, reduce birth weight and slow growth rate in prenatally stressed infants, explains Dr Tan Hwee Sim, Specialist in Psychiatry & Consultant, Raffles Counselling Centre, Raffles Medical Group.
Studies have shown that foetal heart rate, foetal activity, sleep pattern and movement have also been shown to be influenced by maternal psychological states. This suggests that negative emotions like prenatal depression or anxiety could also affect central nervous system development.
Dr Tan also highlights that certain biochemicals (such as catecholamines and serotonin) have been noted to have similar profiles in depressed mothers and their infants. Plus, it could contribute to prematurity, low birth weight and less optimal neo-natal behaviour (such as being less active and demonstrating poor irritability and agitation).
A strong support system from family and friends can help pregnant women in managing prenatal depression or anxiety. (Photo: gstockstudio / www.123rf.com)
What can be done to manage prenatal depression or anxiety?
The most important step of managing prenatal depression or anxiety is identifying the condition and the contributing factors, PANDA states. It is often difficult for pregnant women to realise what she is going through, so partners, family and friends need to watch out for the signs. Professional therapy or counselling can help in managing prenatal depression or anxiety. Note that antidepressants might not be prescribed for pregnant women, as it may increase foetal risk.
Pregnant women should also make a conscious effort to take care of themselves, Dr Tan advises. This includes ensuring plenty of rest, proper nutrition, exercise, engaging in fun or relaxing activities, talking to people and getting support or help from others.
They also need to identify and stop negative self-talk or ruminations, and change negative thoughts into more positive ones. The process is not difficult but involves practice for people who have the tendency to think negatively, says Dr Tan.
This article was written by Katherine Teo and first appeared in Raffles Healthnews. It has been adapted for www.shape.com.sg.