The Impacts of Depression During Pregnancy and Early Parenthood
Depression during pregnancy is a much more common problem than you might think. In fact, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) an estimated 14–23% of women are impacted by depression during their pregnancy, which is much higher than the 6% of women who will suffer from depression at some point during their lifetime. Given that pregnancy has a huge impact on your hormone levels, affects your brain chemicals and causes other physical and emotional changes to your body, it comes as no surprise that these massive changes might lead to depression as well.
What Are Common Symptoms of Depression During Pregnancy?
Depression tends to develop slowly, and the symptoms can differ from person-to-person. However, changes in your appetite and sleep habits; feelings of sadness, hopelessness or despair; lack of energy; taking no pleasure from your normal pastimes and hobbies; and crying for no reason are all pretty common with depression.
Untreated depression during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage or pre-term labor, so if you are experiencing symptoms of depression, make an appointment to see your physician as soon as possible. It’s important to remember that depression is nothing to be ashamed of and being diagnosed with depression will have no impact on your abilities as a mother or on the love that you have for your child.
Could My Child Inherit My Depression?
Many women who live with depression and are contemplating motherhood worry about the impact that their depression might have on their children—particularly if they are taking medication while they are pregnant. There have been several studies conducted on the long term impact on children who are born to mothers with depression. Research conducted Dr. Anqi Qiu at the National University of Singapore and published in Biological Psychiatry found that babies born of women with high levels of depression symptoms had a slightly different brain structure to babies born of women presenting no signs or symptoms of depression.
However, the differences found were very slight. It is therefore unlikely that any child will definitely develop depression simply because their mother had the condition.
Can I Still Breastfeed My Baby?
It is a common misconception that women who take antidepressants should not breastfeed their babies. In fact, while small amounts of antidepressants will come through breast milk, extensive research has shown that children exposed to these drugs through breast milk consumption have not gone on to experience any problems or side effects. Doctors and midwives promote that “breast is best” for the health of the baby and for promoting a strong bond between mother and child, so if you would like to breastfeed your child then there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t.
Women, and particularly mothers, living with mental health problems are highly likely to be stigmatized and discriminated against. But the fact is that by acknowledging your depression and seeking medical and emotional support, you are actually putting yourself in a better position as a mother than if you were to pretend that the problem didn’t exist.
If you are thinking of becoming pregnant, discuss your desires with your physician. They may adjust your treatment plan, offer you additional emotional support or reduce your medication levels, depending on your unique needs. What’s important to remember is that if you feel physically and emotionally ready to have a child, do not let depression stop you.
Now a writer, Anne Gold worked previously in the mental health sector. She's someone who has battled her own problems with depression and anxiety and firmly believes that to be able to help others, you have to help yourself. Now she's a mother, she's more acutely aware of staying well and promoting good mental health to others.