Pregnancy is traditionally described as a time of joy, happiness, excitement and general emotional wellbeing. It is the beginning of a dramatic new stage in the parent’s lives where they have to find their way through previously uncharted territory. Along with certain obvious changes such as fatigue, bloating, nausea and morning sickness in women; parents are challenged with some pretty serious decision making- negotiating flexible work arrangements, making financial adjustments, changing priorities, etc.

Sometimes these circumstances can be too overwhelming and affect the mother’s mental and emotional health. Pregnancy can especially be a hard time for new mothers or women who have a history of past mental health issues. Good mental health and happiness are as important as physical and social health for a mother and the fetus.

Table of Contents:
1. What are the common mental health conditions faced by women during pregnancy?
2. What is the importance of good mental health during pregnancy?
3. How to get help?
4. What are the treatment options available?
5. Dos and Don’ts

What are the Common Mental Health Conditions Faced by Women During Pregnancy?

One of the earliest signs of pregnancy is mood swings. It occurs due to a sudden increase in female sex hormones during the early gestational period. It is quite normal and is experienced mostly in the first trimester and then again sometimes during the third trimester. However, if you are sad all the time, feeling nervous and lethargic, it might be an indication of something more serious.

This is a list of the mental health issues faced by pregnant women:

Mental health
1. Anxiety You are worried all the time about the thing that might happen.Ex: you might worry about not being a good mother.
2. DepressionBeing sad or irritable for weeks or months at a time. Ex: when it is an unwanted pregnancy.
3. PTSD- Post-traumatic stress disorderFlashbacks and nightmares. Ex: usually occurs when there has been a previous miscarriage.
4. Panic disorder Sudden attacks of paralyzing fear, hallucinations etc.Ex: history of trauma 
5. OCDObsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour

The most common mental health disorders faced by women during pregnancy are anxiety and depression. They are said to affect 10- 15% of all pregnant women. The symptoms of such disorder during pregnancy are very similar to those during any other times. Such red flags should not be overlooked.

What is the Importance of Good Mental Health Conditions During Pregnancy?

Good mental health conditions are important at every stage of life, not just during pregnancy. However, our emotional health just like our physical health has a serious impact on the baby. Until recently, scientists believed that a mother’s mental health only affected the child after being born. However, it has been found that a woman’s psychological health during pregnancy can influence that of her child.

During pregnancy, the fetus is exposed to everything you experience and takes cues from your reactions. This includes the air you breathe, the food you eat, the environment you live in, the diurnal cycle you follow. Everything you think and do affects your baby.

Maternal stress can regulate the immunological, neurological and behavioural development of the fetus. A recent study conducted by Doctor Catherine Monk- a medical psychologist researching in the field for the past 20 years- showed that in women waiting to undergo amniocentesis, there were more cortisol levels in the amniotic fluid of anxious mothers. Cortisol is the stress hormone produced by the body. Amniotic fluid is what the fetus is directly exposed to.

Stress and anxiety in the first trimester is expected to have a more damaging effect on the fetus as that is the time period in which vital organs such as- brain, heart, gonads, etc. are developing. Such babies have a higher risk of developing ADHD or schizophrenia.

Although single isolated episodes of crying or sadness do not cause such profound effects, it is generally advised to take care of the mother’s emotional wellbeing during this period.

How to Get Help?

It is important to remember that help is always available. Most of the stress is relieved if you let your feelings out. Pregnancy brings a time of tremendous psychological transformation, and it is important to maintain communication. Due to the social stigma attached to mental health conditions and society emphasizing pregnancy to be a time of joy, mothers feel guilty of their negative feelings and try to hide them. They often feel alone and are unsure of how to reduce stress.

The first step when facing such symptoms is to talk.

Places you can get help from:

  • Your doctor, OBGyn, midwife
  • Your spouse or any other loved one
  • Counsellor, psychologist, psychiatrist
  • Pregnancy or birth helpline
  • Depression helpline
  • Mental health emergency response centres

What are the Treatment Options Available?

The two methods usually applied are prescription medicines and therapy. Treatment depends on how severe your symptoms are.

Prescription Medicines

  • Always talk to a qualified doctor before starting any medications. They are usually prescribed for women having a serious issue.
  • Medicines should be consumed as per the doctor’s orders diligently.
  • Usual drugs prescribed are anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, mood stabilisers, SSRIs, etc.
  • Medications in the first 2 months might cause teratogenic effects; hence, it is recommended that you and your doctor come up with a treatment plan based on your symptoms after carefully weighing the benefits and side effects.

Psychological Therapy

  • Under this comes a lot of options and women choose what they are comfortable with. It includes- talk therapy, meditation, physical exercise, gardening, hobby, etc.
  • Talking with a therapist or counsellor can become a great way to reduce stress and deal with depression. Talk groups can help women feel less alienated and realise that they are not the only ones facing such issues.
  • It is effective and works minus the side effects. Hence, it is usually recommended first.
  • Such activities can be a welcome change from the stress and constant worry; this will release positive hormones and relax the mother, which in turn relaxes the fetus.

Dos and Don’ts

Throughout your pregnancy you will receive a lot of advice and criticism. Remember, what works for someone might not work for you. And it is highly unadvisable to try something you are unsure of without consulting a registered OBGyn.

Some basic dos and don’ts to keep in mind are:

Communicate, share your feelings with someone you trust.Don’t compare yourself with other people. Pregnancy is a unique journey for everyone.
Eat a healthy diet and plenty of water.Do not hide your emotions or feelings from doctors, family, therapists.
Try calming breathing exercises, meditations, yoga when you feel emotional.Do not consume alcohol, it is linked to heart defects in the fetus.
Basic physical activity and stay active.Don’t smoke as it can cause low birth weight.
Attend antenatal classes, groups, blogs and meet other pregnant people and share your feelings.Take too much stress and worry about things out of your control.

Pregnancy brings a huge transformation in the parents’ lives. There are challenges, stressors, immense love and unimaginable opportunities for growth. It is absolutely normal to feel confused, overcome and out of your comfort zone; more so when it is your first child. Parenthood comes with its own shares of ups and downs; it is important to remember that there are number of supports for you at this time. You should get the help you need to feel better in order to do the best for yourself and your child. The first step is to open up and talk.

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