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


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Laurlev Laurlev

I expierenced pre-natal depression. I felt so awful and tired, but I couldn't sleep. I questioned whether I could handle two under 2 and was an emotional mess. I had my son 7 weeks ago and I feel great. I'm in a better plae physically and emotionally.

kelli... kelli0585

I absolutely believe it.  I didn't want to leave the house.  I didn't track my growing belly in photos.  No one was allowed to photograph me.  I hated the way my body felt and looked.  And you bet, the feelings of hopelessness.  I was absolutely miserable.

Amazingly, I was the very opposite once the baby came.  No signs of PPD, even though I was breastfeeding around the clock, with hardly any sleep and also a bout of mastitis.  It was almost an instant relief.  However, the prenatal depression was so bad and SO memorable, that it has dissuaded me from ever wanting another child again.  They say people forget their pregnancy and labor, but that wasn't true for me.  My son is three (about the age where most people want to have another), and I am enjoying him alone, without the desire to have more.

Christina Murphy Stumph

I was depressed from the time my test showed the line.  Even though my daughter was totally planned, I spired pretty early on.  I kept saying that once she was born everything would be fine.  But I ended up with really severe PPD too.  I think part of it was I was sick all through my pregnancy, threw up every day - even the day my water broke.  Plus I couldn't wrap my head around what I had done - why did I add this person into our family?  We were really happy before.  It sounds dumb now, she's six and I couldn't have asked for anything more.  But until she turned one, I doubted my decision to have this baby - it was pretty awful.

Jesse Lesh

I've been battling with depression since I was 14 (possibly earlier than that) and becoming pregnant did not change that. A part of me felt guilty about becoming pregnant because I did not want to introduce a child into the world who could A) witness my depression, which isn't fair, or B) be genetically predisposed to depression. We have to take it in strides. I am 13 weeks along now and I do feel better and less anxious. I take an anti-depressant, and I take every day in stride, making sure I get enough rest and don't put a lot of pressure on myself.

jessi... jessicasmom1

I was one happy pregnant wife , then became widowed ... was pregnant again and I am not sure the feelings I was having during this pregnancy only to result in losing this baby 

Laura Palmer

I can relate to this, I am pretty sure everyone thought I was a monster, I could not stand be pregnant, don't get me wrong I was excited for the baby part, but I just felt miserable, bloated, had to wear a maternity belt just so I wasn't in awful pain from round ligament pain towards the end, I cried daily. But now my son is about to turn 1, and I never thought I could experience a joy or a love so deep, the pregnancy was well worth the joy and love I feel now.

nonmember avatar Jessi

Kelli0585 & JesseLesh both summed it up perfectly for me.

I went as far as crawling back to me ex for forgiveness (we had struggled for years to have kids until we found out that he was unable to reproduce due to a genetic disorder. To this day I still love him but while pregnant the guilt just ate away at me. It wasn't until several weeks after I gave birth that these emotions, depressions, guilt etc settled down and I began enjoying myself and the new child my fiance and I brought into the world.

pupuk... pupukeawahine

I was happy the whole time because I couldn't get pregnant before, and the one time I had gotten pregnant had miscarried . . . finally, at forty I was pregnant.  Was excited the whole time because I was actually FINALLY going to have a baby.

Lynette Lynette

Yep that was me! I love being pregnant and everyone of my children were planned.  I think it's all those crazy hormones and that life is going to change.  I took zoloft with my first 2 pregnancies.  But for my 3rd & 4th ones I took fish oil supplements and those helped enough that I was able to stay off the antidepressants.

Betty Zam



I had it 2. But I had no idea what was going on. I loved my docs. They were really good at being docs but bad at the whole depression thing. Mostly people would brush it off and say it was hormones and that's all.After that, I didn't tell anyone bc I felt ashamed. I didn't know what was wrong with me. The doctors said I was fine. I actually came to this site and read a story about postpartum by @Aunt Becky. Here is the link:

When I reread that story or think about it...I always cry. If it hadn't been for that candid article I would have NEVER known. I remember bc that's when I realized that I DID have depression and started working on me. Then I think there was another shortly after saying there should be an It gets Better campaign for PD mom.  Though I don't always agree with the bloggers on this site, I am very grateful for the stories about Post Partum.


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