Pregnancy is a much-celebrated phase in a woman’s life and is generally considered a time of emotional enrichment. It is a time of excitement, happiness and joy for the family. However, the hormonal rush brings forth a plethora of physical and emotional changes that can sometimes be overwhelming for the woman to deal with. It is absolutely normal to have some anxiety and apprehension of the unknown. Emotional sensitivity and mood swings are in fact considered as early signs of pregnancy and get easier to deal with after some time. However, some pregnant women experience depression and major stress during their pregnancy period; which can be a threat to both the mother’s and baby’s health.
Table of Contents: Psychological conditions develop during pregnancy Statistics related to the mental health of women during pregnancy Causes of anxiety in pregnant women When to get help General lifestyle changes to manage mental health while expecting Importance of mental well-being during pregnancy Treatment methods available to combat pregnancy-related mental disorders
Physiological Conditions Develop During Pregnancy
The most common symptom experienced by pregnant women is mood swings. Many women feel nervous or unusually sad during the first trimester as a result of their hormones. It is quite normal and nothing to worry about. However, if you are feeling down all the time, it could be a sign of something more serious going on.
Some mental health problems faced by women in their pregnancy are:
- Depression- This is the feeling of sadness and lack of interest in regular life for weeks or even months at a time.
- Anxiety- This is the sense of fear about things that might happen. A lot of new mothers worry that they will not be able to raise their child properly.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)- This is the stress experienced after a traumatic experience, like a miscarriage or forced abortion.
- Panic disorder- Sudden intense paralyzing fear, pregnant women experience panic attacks about not being a good mother, not being able to make enough time for work and children, etc.
- Bipolar disorder- These bring forth episodes of low energy depression and high energy mania. It is rare in pregnancy.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)- Obsessions are fears, and a person with OCD cannot stop thinking about these fears. A common situation current new mothers face is the change in their physique. The time taken to loose pregnancy weight and get rid of the baby bump can be slightly overwhelming.
- Eating disorders- Common eating disorders are bulimia, binge eating, anorexia, etc. They can take a toll on the mental, physical and emotional well-being of the expecting mother as well as devoid the fetus of necessary nutrients.
There is also the added stress of morning sickness. Some women experience vomiting up to 15 times a day!
Some pregnant women experience trauma during the stages of labor while giving birth which eventually leads to postpartum depression.
Statistics Related to Mental Health of Women During Pregnancy
- According to a study published by Physiology Today blog in July 2020 that included both pregnant and postpartum women, more than 70% women reported clinically significant depression and at least 40% tested positive for PTSD.
- Overall in the world, 20% of women suffer mood and anxiety disorders during pregnancy. Studies have shown at least 71% women suffering one mood swing episode during the period.
Causes of Anxiety in Pregnant Women
Mental problems are nothing to be ashamed of. It needs to be acknowledged and treated properly. There is no single reason that can be pin pointed as the cause of mental health disorders during pregnancy, however. Over the years, psychologists have narrowed down a few causative factors.
- Past mental health illnesses
- Unwanted pregnancy
- Facing a difficult time in life- financial crisis, problem in relationship, etc.
- Lack of support from spouse or family
- History of substance abuse
- Alcohol dependence
When to Get Help
While emotional changes are expected, it is still important to monitor your mental well-being and keep an eye out for signs that you might need help. It is advised to seek help when:
- You constantly feel sad or listless for over 2 weeks.
- You are having constant negative thoughts and fears which are interfering with your daily life.
- You are losing hopes and interest; showing signs of depression.
- You are worried most of the time and are waking up due to nightmares.
- You are experiencing panic attacks too frequently.
- You are developing an aversion to food.
If you are taking medications for any mental illness, you should always inform your gynecologist about them.
General Lifestyle Changes to Manage Mental Health While you are Expecting
- Try to spend time doing activities that you like and those which relax you. For example: painting, reading, etc.
- Spend more time with people who make you feel good about yourself. This will create a positive environment around you and prevent stress.
- Maintain a healthy diet and eat regularly. This will also provide proper nutrients to the fetus.
- Avoid making major changes during your pregnancy. For example: taking up a new job, changing your house, etc.
- Exercise and be physically active. You need proper blood circulation and stronger muscles that can take the strain of bearing a child. Although, before doing this, make sure to check with your midwife or doctor and ensure the exercise is safe.
- Do not over expect from yourself. You are tired and hormonal, your body is going through a major change, and everything is irritating. So, it is okay to take lesser responsibilities and put your health first.
- Avoid the use of alcohol or drugs.
- Contact other expecting couples if you can and share support.
- Take help of your family elders, mother, and in-laws as they are experienced.
Importance of Mental Well-Being During Pregnancy
Not just during pregnancy, it is important to be mentally sound in general. A sound mind results in a healthy body and a positive attitude. Mental affects our skin, weight, reception and overall health. Obviously, the mental health of a pregnant woman affects the child. It has been shown that depressed women give birth to underweight babies. A mother’s untreated mental illness during pregnancy can produce complications in the child’s brain growth as well.
Treatments Available To Combat Pregnancy-Related Mental Disorders
Generally, in most cases, a family together can do wonders for the mother’s peace of mind. In most cases, new mothers just have to get used to the idea of being pregnant. However, sometimes things are more serious and might need help from professionals. Some treatment methods available to deal with pregnancy-related anxiety disorders are:
1. Prescribed Medication
It is very important that you always inform your doctor before you start or stop taking any medicines. Some medicines can affect your child. Always discuss your symptoms and come up with a proper plan.
2. Talk Therapy
Just talking about your feelings can be a great way to let off some steam and deal with stress better. You could find a support group where similar pregnant women share their worries, and you will realise you are not alone. You could talk with a therapist or your doctor as well.
3. Other Methods
An idle mind is the devil’s workshop. While we don’t advocate you to take up more than you can manage. It is recommended to do something that you really enjoy or something that calms you down. Many young mothers take up yoga, meditation, art, etc. to deal with stress.
4. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
This is a slightly severe form of treatment adopted to treat postpartum psychosis or severe depression when medications seem not to work. Small electric currents are passed through the brain in a completely controlled environment to intentionally trigger small seizures. This changes the brain chemistry to bring relief.
Pregnancy blues is a real thing; just like postpartum depression. It is nothing to feel embarrassed or guilty about and can be averted easily. Do not hesitate to ask for help when you feel the need to. Remember, you cannot control everything and try to enjoy yourself in the experience.