Prenatal Depression Warning Signs: Here's What to Look For

Health Check 12

How many times have we heard pregnant women described as "glowing"? I don't know about you, but my pregnancy glow was more of an oily sheen, thanks to the skin upheavals I experienced during the first two trimesters. I didn't dislike being pregnant, but I was hardly a serenely happy glowing-with-the-miracle-of-life goddess -- more like a gassy, bloated, lumbering sack of vague apprehension and worry. With giant unwieldy hooters.

Based on my own less-than-picture-perfect experiences with pregnancy, I'm not really surprised to hear that there's such a thing as prenatal depression. What's strange is that it's just as common as postpartum depression -- despite the fact that people rarely talk about it.

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A UK study conducted in the early 90's showed that out of 9028 participants, the percentages of women who reported suffering from symptoms of depression broke down like this:

• 11.8 percent at 18 weeks
• 13.5 percent at 32 weeks
• 9.1 percent 8 weeks after the birth
• 8.1 percent 8 months after the birth

Those findings, among others, contradict the popular view that women are more prone to postnatal depression. Until recently, doctors didn’t even think a woman could get depressed during pregnancy, because they believed antenatal hormones protected against it. Medical experts now know that the rapid increase in hormone levels at the start of pregnancy can disrupt brain chemistry -- and sometimes lead to depression.

The fact is, as many as 70% of women will experience symptoms of depression during pregnancy. Those would be the fleeting moments of fatigue, anxiety, body image freakouts, and other assorted discomforts and unhappinesses we're all probably familiar with. However, for 10-15 percent of pregnant women, depressive symptoms can spiral into a full blown diagnostic depression, which can start in any trimester.

Like postpartum depression, prenatal depression is hard to talk about or diagnose. Pregnancy symptoms can mimic depression signs, so it can be difficult to tell what's really going on. Plus, everyone expects pregnant women to be blissfully happy, right? Just so overjoyed at the miracle of it all, too filled with excited anticipation to feel such humanly concerns as fear or discontentment.

Experts says that if you're feeling three or more of the following symptoms for more than two weeks, it's time to talk to your healthcare provider about treatment options:

• A sense that nothing feels enjoyable or fun anymore
• Feeling blue, sad, or "empty" for most of the day, every day
• It's harder to concentrate
• Extreme irritability or agitation or excessive crying
• Trouble sleeping or sleeping all the time
• Extreme or never-ending fatigue
• A desire to eat all the time or not wanting to eat at all
• Inappropriate guilt or feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness

(You can see how those can be hard to differentiate from normal pregnancy symptoms!)

The effects of untreated perinatal depression can be serious, even leading to preterm birth and growth problems. Plus, no one should have to put on a happy face when they're suffering. If you're depressed during pregnancy, get help. You and your baby are worth it.

Did you experience any depression during pregnancy?

Image via mahalie/Flickr

1st trimester, emotional health