Pregnancy is considered a time of joy and celebration, but it can also be stressful for many women. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 6% of women experience some form of mental illness during pregnancy or within six months after giving birth. (1)
How does pregnancy affect mental health & well-being?
During and after pregnancy, your estrogen and progesterone levels drop significantly. Estrogen plays a big part in regulating your emotions, while progesterone helps you sleep and control your appetite. When you have less of both hormones, you feel tired, irritable, and anxious.
Some pregnant women may feel like they’re going crazy, have thoughts of suicide, or even hear voices. This is because, during pregnancy, the brain changes in ways that make you more sensitive to stress and anxiety. The hormones produced by the placenta, called human placental lactogen (hPL), also play an essential role in these changes. HPL is believed to help restrain behaviors brought about by anxiety. That being said, experts have linked low levels of hPL to abnormalities in mood. (2)
Some women may not realize that their moods and feelings are different than usual. They might think that they just “feel pregnant” when actually they’re experiencing something else, such as depression, anxiety, or baby blues symptoms.
Are mental health issues normal during pregnancy?
Yes. It’s natural for pregnant women to feel this way, so don’t worry if you feel down or upset for seemingly no reason at times. Any unusual behavior or changes in your mood can signify that you need to consult your doctor or mental health services, such as ForWhen and others.
It’s important to know that pregnancy doesn’t cause mental illness; however, it can make existing ones worse. According to the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Women’s Mental Health, the relapse rate is higher in women diagnosed with bipolar disorder before getting pregnant. (3) (4)
Common misconceptions about pregnancy mental health
There are many myths surrounding pregnancy mental health. Here are three of the most common ones:
- Myth 1: You’ll always be happy during pregnancy. Feeling sad or depressed during pregnancy is abnormal.
Fact: Being a parent can indeed bring happiness into your life, but it won’t erase the fact that depression hits anyone, regardless of your circumstance or physical state.
Depression is a mental illness experienced by many women during pregnancy. Some studies show that up to 10% of pregnant women will suffer from mild to moderate levels of depression at some point in their lives. (5)
- Myth 2: Baby blues are the same as anxiety disorders and perinatal mood.
Fact: The term “baby blues” refers to a temporary condition that occurs in about 80% of new mothers and that usually goes away naturally after some time. Symptoms include:
- Feeling blue
- Being tearful
- Feeling nervous
- Feeling restless
- Not wanting to eat
- Not wanting to get out of bed (6)
Having baby blues does not mean that you have anxiety or are experiencing perinatal mood. While the symptoms of baby blues are similar to those of the two, there are differences between these conditions. Anxiety disorders and perinatal mood are types of mental illness that last for a more extended period and usually require treatment because of their severity.
- Myth 3: Having depression, perinatal mood, or baby blues means that you are weak.
Fact: Mental illness does not equate to weakness. The causes behind mental illness are complex, and they can happen to anyone, regardless of the strength of their character or the state of their life.
Key mental health concerns & symptoms you should be aware of
If you’re worried about your mental health or that of a loved one who’s pregnant, here are some key things to keep an eye on.
- Symptoms of depression:
- Feeling down, hopeless, or worthless
- Loss of interest in hobbies
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of guilt or self-blame
- Thoughts of death
- Perinatal Mood Disorder
Mood swings that occur during pregnancy can cause significant distress. These mood swings may last for weeks, months, or even years. Any of these signs could indicate PMD:
- Crying for days without stopping
- Trouble sleeping
- Being overly emotional
- Having little to no appetite
- Difficulty concentrating
- Thoughts of suicide
- Severe anxiety
How to build mental resilience and feel better during pregnancy & post-partum
There are many ways to improve your mental health during pregnancy. Here are helpful tips to stay positive and happy throughout this exciting time:
- Take care of yourself physically: Eat healthy foods, drink lots of water, exercise, take breaks from work, and get plenty of rest.
- Learn how to cope with changes: During pregnancy, your body undergoes significant physical changes, including weight gain, increased heart rate, and more frequent urination. Though difficult at first, you should try to adjust to the changes rather than simply bemoaning them.
- Learn relaxation techniques: Deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and tai chi can help reduce stress levels and increase feelings of better well-being.
- Don’t forget about your mental and social needs: Connect with friends, family members, or support groups. Talk to someone you trust. Talking with someone who has been through something similar can make all the difference.
There are many myths surrounding pregnancy and mental health, and it’s important to be aware of what’s true and what’s not. Most women who undergo pregnancy have a tough time dealing with changes to their mental health because they often don’t know what to look out for to get better. By learning about the facts behind common myths, you can make informed decisions about your mental health and have a more comfortable pregnancy.
1.“Major Depressive Disorder With Peripartum Onset”, Source: www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Depression/Major-Depressive-Disorder-with-Peripartum-Onset
2.“The Role Of The Placenta In Maternal Mental Health”, Source: www.news-medical.net/health/The-Role-of-the-Placenta-in-Maternal-Mental-Health.aspx
3.“What If My Mental Health Gets Worse In Pregnancy?”, Source: www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/planning-a-pregnancy/planning-a-pregnancy-and-mental-illness/what-if-my-mental-health-gets-worse-pregnancy
4.“Psychiatric Disorders During Pregnancy”, Source: womensmentalhealth.org/specialty-clinics/psychiatric-disorders-during-pregnancy/#:~:text=Although%20pregnancy%20has%20typically%20been,discontinue%20psychotropic%20medications%20during%20pregnancy.
5.“Depression In Pregnant Women And Mothers: How Children Are Affected”, Source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2724170/
6.“Is It Postpartum Depression Or ‘Baby Blues’?”, Source: www.webmd.com/depression/postpartum-depression/postpartum-depression-baby-blues