Pregnancy can be a wonderful time in a woman's life. For many women however, pregnancy is marked by a struggle with depression. Research estimates that nearly 20 percent of pregnant women contend with depressive symptoms. Warning signs of depression can be especially difficult to spot during pregnancy because some of them resemble normal issues experienced by expectant mothers. Changes in appetite and problems sleeping are just two symptoms that are common to both depression and pregnancy.

Studies indicate that babies of mothers who are suffering from depression are more likely to be born prematurely or suffer from low birth weight. Depressed mothers tend to have babies who are more irritable than those of non-depressed mothers.  Further, babies of depressed mothers are likely to be less active and less attentive than other babies.

Other risks associated with depression during pregnancy include a condition known as preeclampsia, which is marked by high blood pressure and protein in the urine, bad eating habits, substandard prenatal care, and insufficient weight gain. Expectant moms who are suffering from depression may attempt to self-medicate using illegal drugs or alcohol which can have a number of harmful effects on babies. Suicide is also a serious risk for depressed pregnant women.

Women with a prior history of depression are at greater risk for depression during pregnancy. Other indicators of higher than average risk for prenatal depression include: a family history of depression, medical problems with the pregnancy; the loss of a previous baby and fertility treatments. Social risk factors include relationship problems, stressful life changes and a past history of abuse. Also, mothers who are young, single or have unplanned pregnancies are at greater risk for depression.

Anti-depressants have both risks and benefits for mother and child. Women taking anti-depressants who become pregnant should not stop taking their medication. They should contact their doctor to determine the appropriate course of action.

Tips for mothers who might be experiencing depression:

  • Seek attention form a professional.  Do not self diagnosis.   As stated above some issues during pregnancy are similar to depressive symptoms.
  • Facilitate open communication with your OBGYN and allow your doctor to talk to your mental health professional if you are treated by one.  This will assist in the best all around care for you and the baby.
  • Participate in activities that lift your mood.  Make sure what you do is what you enjoy as much as possible to assist in staying positive.
  • Identify members of your support system and do not be shy about leaning on them when you need help.  Getting overwhelmed can add to negative moods.
  • Think positive thoughts and not dwell on negative ones.