If you’re an expecting mother, you should also expect a lot of changes to your day-to-day life. You’ve probably found that all your time is dedicated to preparing for the arrival of your baby. Between decorating his or her nursery, baby-proofing the house, and stocking up on necessities, you hopefully feel at least a little prepared as you check off these things on your to-do-list. However, one thing pregnant women do not always expect is the emotional toll of carrying a baby. This is the less glamorous side of pregnancy that TV shows, books, and movies are less inclined to illustrate. Feeling more emotional and experiencing mood swings when you are pregnant is inevitable, but you may also find that you feel a lot sadder than your pre-pregnancy self. This type of sadness can feel a lot like depression, and Cheryl Brodnax, and LPC at Crossroads Professional Counseling, is here to help distinguish between real depression and pregnancy hormones.
What causes me to feel depressed when I’m pregnant?
When you are pregnant, your body produces significantly more hormones that help with the growth and development of your baby. Estrogen and progesterone are the main hormones responsible for this, and they aid in processes such as the transfer of nutrients to the fetus, the formation of the baby’s blood vessels, and the development of milk ducts in your breasts. These hormones, while crucial, can also make you feel a lot of things because they are skyrocketing and tampering with your serotonin levels. Serotonin, known as the “happy” hormone, is a neurotransmitter that regulates your emotions. “When serotonin levels change, it can cause depressive-like symptoms such as fatigue, aches, moodiness, tearfulness, and lack of motivation,” says Cheryl.
Is it normal to feel depressed when I’m pregnant?
The short answer is, yes! Your body naturally produces all those hormones, so it’s only natural to feel emotional changes such as depression, anxiety, and irritability. According to Cheryl, other factors that contribute to feeling depressed include stress, genetics, and the mother’s sensitivity to hormone changes.
So, what’s the difference between real depression and pregnancy hormones that make me feel depressed?
It’s easy to get the two confused because both real depression and pregnancy hormone-based depression have similar symptoms, but the difference lies in the severity and duration of your feelings. “Depression is the persistent feeling of sadness, hopelessness, and inability to enjoy activities the way you used to, which can last for months,” Cheryl answers. “There are many causes for depression, such as trauma and biological conditions. However, hormone changes caused by pregnancy can trigger depression. The difference is that hormone-based depression should wane as the hormones regulate.” So, pregnancy hormones can cause depression, but true depression can be more severe and prolonged. Once your hormones start to regulate after you give birth, your depression should go away on its own.
What symptoms of hormone-based depression should pregnant women look out for?
Some symptoms include excessive anxiety, especially about parenthood and about your baby, along with feelings of inadequacy and poor prenatal care. “Other signs include poor appetite or sleep, difficulty getting out of bed and completing regular activities, and low self-esteem,” Cheryl lists.
What should I do if I’m experiencing these symptoms?
Reach out for help, and know that you’re not alone. “The only wrong move is to not reach out for help,” Cheryl says. “Expectant moms should definitely speak to their doctor about their symptoms if they feel depressed. It’s also important to not isolate yourself out of embarrassment or the false belief that you are alone. Counseling is a great way to process emotions and learn coping skills. Also, there are support groups and forums for new moms that can encourage you during this season in life.”
Your baby is receiving so much attention from your friends, family, partner, and yourself that it is easy to forget to take care of your mental (and physical) health when you are pregnant. It is also easy to feel like you’re alone with your own feelings, especially if no one talks about them. Rest assured that there are plenty of outlets for help; don’t let the stigmas about depression keep you from consulting a medical professional for any baby blues, pregnancy hormone-based depression, or postpartum depression you may experience. With consistent care and support for all moms-to-be, pregnancy will be the beautiful, exciting time it was meant to be. ????