Parenting magazines and advertisements always portray the pregnant woman as awash with joy, glowing from within and oozing warm fuzzy feelings as she tenderly cradles her rounded belly. While that may be so for many women, not all expectant mothers are filled with an overarching sense of joy and wonder for most of their nine months.
In fact, at least one in ten pregnant women go through what is now termed “prenatal depression”, which is often experienced as a deep sense of helplessness, loneliness, sadness, anxiety, and thoughts about ending the pregnancy, or even their very lives (in extreme cases).
Experts believe that the sudden surge in hormone levels at the start of pregnancy is one of the contributing factors to depression. These hormonal changes can also cause you to feel more anxious about more things than usual. Physical discomforts and the well-meaning advice of all and sundry can perpetuate your dampened mood, and cause you to go into a downward spiral of negativity and pessimism.
It’s important to recognize that your emotional health is just as important as your physical wellbeing, and needs to be taken seriously. Sometimes, physical symptoms like fatigue or insomnia come from an underlying state of depression.
If you frequently feel overwhelmed by daily responsibilities or are having thoughts of self-harm, speak to your gynae or doctor as soon as possible. He or she will probably refer you to a counselor or psychiatrist who can help you process what you are thinking and feeling, and prescribe appropriate antidepressant medication as necessary.
Here are some other common symptoms of depression (adapted from www.babycentre.com):
• A sense that nothing feels enjoyable or fun anymore
• Feeling blue, sad, or “empty” for most of the day, every day
• Finding it hard to concentrate or focus
• Extreme irritability, agitation or general weepiness
• Extreme or constant sense of fatigue
• A desire to eat all the time or not wanting to eat at all
• Inappropriate feelings of guilt, unworthiness or despair
Do take note of these common risk factors:
• Personal or family history of depression or anxiety. If you’ve struggled in the past with depression or extreme anxiety (or, to a lesser extent, if depression runs in your family), you may be more susceptible to prenatal and/or postnatal depression.
• Strained relationships It could be a disagreement with your spouse, a strained relationship with your in-laws, even a bad argument with your best friend – and it’s weighing heavily on you.
• Struggles with infertility. The stress and emotional upheaval of multiple fertility procedures and disappointments can deeply impact you for years afterward. And now that you’re pregnant, it’s not uncommon to be terrified of losing the baby you worked so hard to conceive. All of these make you more prone to depression.
• Previous loss. If you’ve miscarried or lost a baby in the past, the emotional and physical scars will make you more vulnerable and susceptible to depression.
• Difficult pregnancy. A complicated or high-risk pregnancy can make this period an extra distressing and anxious time for you. Take proper steps to care for your emotional well-being now, to reduce your risk for problems both now and after delivery.
• Life stressors. Any major concerns, transitions, life events or losses can significantly impact your emotional health.
As with most emotional issues, talking it out helps the most. Process your thoughts, fears and frustrations with your spouse, and also with a trusted friend or (better yet) a professional therapist. Taking care of yourself will definitely be key in helping prevent or minimize the onset of depression. Wherever possible, create pockets of “me” time to do the things that energize you and bring you joy. Carving out couple time is another essential, especially since there will be a lot less of that once baby arrives.
Know your stressors and your limits. Find ways that can uniquely help you manage your stress levels and emotions. For example, if exercise helps you feel better, go for a slow jog every evening with your partner to unwind and be refreshed.
By Dorothea Chow