Published December 22, 2013
For most women, pregnancy is a happy and exciting time in their lives, but for others who suffer from depression and anxiety, those nine months are spent trying to feel better.
Depression and anxiety during pregnancy is a fairly common problem. A recent study in The Scientific World Journal found that 70 percent of pregnant women are either anxious and/or depressed. Plus, several studies show that mood problems are actually more likely during pregnancy than during the postpartum period.
Despite what the research points to, it may not paint the entire picture, according to Dr. Francine Lederer, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, Calif. It’s difficult to separate the normal symptoms most pregnant women experience – like fatigue, changes in diet, or worry – so it can be hard to identify actual symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Additionally, since there’s an expectation that pregnant women should feel elated, especially if they struggled with infertility, “a lot of women are not speaking out about it,” Lederer said.
If you have a family history of depression or anxiety, or you have struggled with it in the past, you may be more likely to deal with it during pregnancy. Plus, stress, a significant life change, loss, lack of sleep or an unplanned pregnancy can put you at risk too.
The good news is that there are ways to manage the symptoms.
Prenatal yoga can help alleviate aches and pains and calm the mind. In fact, a recent University of Michigan study found that pregnant women who participated in a 10-week mindfulness yoga program, which combined meditative focus with physical poses, significantly reduced their depressive symptoms.
Getting enough sleep when you’re pregnant can be tough, and if you have anxiety, it might be even worse. But aiming for seven to eight hours each night can help your mood. Can’t de-compress? Try taking a bath, reading a book, or meditating to ease your mind.
Moving on most days, if not all, can make a big difference in how you feel. In fact, according to a recent study in the journal Psychology & Health, women who exercised for 30 minutes, four times a week experienced fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety and fatigue than those who were less active.
“For anxiety disorders, women can get really focused on their health concerns,” said Dr. Christina Treece, a psychiatrist who practices at The Women's Place: Center for Reproductive Psychiatry in the Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women. So instead of spending countless hours Googling your pregnancy ailments, get the information from your doctor and distract yourself with something that will make you feel calm.
If you’re feeling blue, you might want to curl up in bed – but isolation can make your symptoms worse. So do something fun with your partner, call up a friend for coffee, and let other people know how you’re feeling.
“My motto is the more you talk about it, the less shame,” said Lederer, who added that support groups are a great way to bond with other women and see that other people are dealing with the same emotions. Talking to a friend or your partner, or finding online forums can also help.
Get professional help
If your symptoms start to interfere with your life and affect your appetite, sleep or your ability to focus, you might have a disorder. It’s important to talk to a therapist who may suggest cognitive behavioral therapy or interpersonal therapy, which are the most effective, Treece said.
Think about medication
If you’re on medication for depression or anxiety, you might think you should stop them when you find out you’re pregnant. But that may not necessarily be the right solution, because the chances of relapse are high. Your doctor can help you decide how serious your symptoms are. “You’re always weighing the risks of the medication versus the risk of the untreated illness,” Treece said.