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Depression During & After Pregnancy: Symptoms and treatment

Antenatal depression is a type of depression that occurs during pregnancy. Postnatal depression is depression that occurs after the birth of a child. Both are serious, negative emotional changes that last longer than two weeks and prevent you from doing t

Post by on Thursday, May 27, 2021

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Dr. Siddharth Chowdhury 

Antenatal depression is a type of depression that occurs during pregnancy. Postnatal depression is depression that occurs after the birth of a child. Both are serious, negative emotional changes that last longer than two weeks and prevent you from doing things in your daily life that you need or want to do.  Antenatal and postnatal depression have similar symptoms and are treated similarly. The only difference between them is the order in which they occur.

Antenatal and postnatal depression are more than the normal emotional changes that occur during pregnancy and shortly after birth. Pregnant women, for example, can expect to feel quite emotional as they go through significant physical and practical changes during this time. And new mothers can expect to experience the "baby blues" a few days after giving birth. However, these kinds of emotional shifts do not last long. Antenatal and postnatal depression are sometimes referred to as perinatal depression.

Symptoms

The symptoms of antenatal and postnatal depression differ from person to person. If you've been feeling down or irritable, or if you've lost interest in activities you used to enjoy, this is something to consider. Changes in your emotions and thinking, behaviour and social life, and general physical well-being may also occur. 

If you experience any of the changes listed below for more than two weeks, it is critical that you seek professional help. It is also critical to inform your healthcare provider if you have a history of mental illness. Previous mental illnesses can resurface during pregnancy.

Emotional changes

You might:

be in a low mood a lot of the time

often feel teary or sad

lose confidence

feel angry or cranky

feel overwhelmed

fear being alone or going out

fear being alone with your baby.

Thinking changes

You might:

think that everything that goes wrong is your fault, or that you are worthless or a failure

think your baby would be better off with someone else

think ‘I cannot do this’ or ‘I cannot cope’

have trouble thinking clearly, concentrating or making decisions

think that your baby does not love you

think about hurting yourself or your baby.

Behaviour and social changes

You might:

lose interest in activities you normally enjoy

find it hard to get moving

struggle with everyday tasks like cooking or shopping

withdraw from close family and friends

not look after yourself properly.

Physical changes

You might have:

sleep problems – for example, you can’t sleep or you’re sleeping a lot more than usual

changes in appetite – for example, you’re not eating or you’re overeating

low energy levels.

In the first few weeks after giving birth, a small number of women experience postnatal psychosis. If you are concerned that you or your partner is acting or thinking differently than usual, contact your doctor as soon as possible.

Treatment

 If you are suffering from antenatal or postnatal depression, there are numerous treatment options available to you. Your doctor will discuss with you a treatment plan that is appropriate for your personal circumstances, age, and the type and severity of your depression.

Here are some treatment options for antenatal and postnatal depression.

Psychological therapy

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy are two types of psychological treatments for antenatal and postnatal depression (IPT). These therapies are intended to assist you in dealing with feelings of depression and anxiety. A counsellor might help you one on one, or in a group with others who are experiencing similar symptoms.

Medication

Antidepressant medication is sometimes prescribed by doctors for antenatal and postnatal depression. There are many different types of antidepressants, some of which can be used safely during pregnancy and breastfeeding.  For many people, medication used together with psychological therapy can work very well.

Hospital admission

It is unusual for women to require hospitalisation for antenatal or postnatal depression. If women are suicidal or have thoughts of harming themselves or their babies, health professionals may consider admitting them to the hospital. If you have this feeling, you should contact your doctor immediately or go to your local hospital's emergency department. Designated hospital staff can provide you with the assistance and support you require.

Practical strategies for antenatal depression and postnatal depression:

If you or someone close to you has antenatal or postnatal depression, here are some practical strategies to help.

Emotional support

Getting emotional support from your partner, family, and friends can help you cope with antenatal and postnatal depression. Speaking with someone who understands how you feel can help you manage some of the symptoms. 

Another source of emotional support can be a parent group, playgroup, or therapy group. You can meet new people to share your experiences with in these groups.

Help at home

Your partner, family, and close friends can provide practical assistance at home. It's a good idea to invite someone you trust over on a regular basis to assist with household chores or baby care. Help at home allows you to rest, sleep, or do something relaxing. It is also a good source of company, which is beneficial to your recovery. 

There's no need to feel bad about asking for this kind of assistance. Many people enjoy assisting others and will be delighted if you ask them to do something specific.

Looking after yourself

Your emotional wellbeing and your physical health are directly related. You can look after both by:

getting regular exercise – any way you can get some movement into your day is good

eating well – keep some simple food handy, like fruit, yoghurt, wholegrain bread and fresh vegetables cut up ready to eat with dips

trying to manage stress

trying to rest – sleep  when your baby is sleeping, go to bed early, and nap whenever you can.


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