Despite there being increasing awareness for postnatal depression, less is known about prenatal depression. Prenatal depression, also called perinatal depression, is depression experienced by women during pregnancy.

Prenatal depression remains somewhat of a taboo issue as women struggle to come to terms with a medical illness that is so common but yet feels so unnatural against the weight of societal expectations. For example, a woman may feel pressured to match the excitement of their family and friends upon hearing the news of the pregnancy because society expects a mother to be joyful and blissful when pregnant. However, a woman suffering from prenatal depression may feel they have to hide their illness because of judgment from society.

Also, while prenatal depression can be treated, many expecting mothers don’t even know that it’s a “thing” and therefore don’t seek treatment for it.

In a short film, Within the Water, several women shared their experience about this very real and yet very isolating medical condition of prenatal depression. All of these women have gone on to become very loving mothers with healthy children and want women out there to know that prenatal depression does not in any way, shape, or form make you less than as a mother. There is no guilt and shame from suffering from it. It is a medical condition like any other.

Like postpartum depression, which impacts as many as 1 in 7 new moms, prenatal depression is actually quite common. Similar to postpartum depression, experts can’t pinpoint one particular cause of prenatal depression but have hypothesised that it is likely caused by a confluence of factors—a “perfect storm” of triggers that come to a head for some mothers during their pregnancies. Either way, it is important to note that whatever caused your prenatal depression, it most certainly wasn’t your fault. There was nothing you did wrong, and you are not a bad mother (nor are you going to be a bad mother because of it).

Here are some of the most common (by no means conclusive) symptoms of prenatal depression:

  • Anxious thoughts and excessive worry about your baby
  • Feeling hopeless and overwhelmed
  • Lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Feeling guilt about how you are feeling, or guilt in general
  • Feeling less interested in eating, or overeating eating
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Racing thoughts
  • Anger
  • Reluctance to follow prenatal health guidelines
  • Not believing others when they try to reassure you
  • Pushing others away, wanting to disconnect from loved ones
  • Participating in unsafe prenatal activities, such as smoking, drinking, drug use
  • Experiencing thoughts of suicide

Mild prenatal depression will not directly affect your baby, but may have some unintended consequences on your pregnancy, which may, in turn, may affect the health and development of your baby. For example, if your feelings of depression are making it difficult for you to eat healthfully, attend prenatal appointments with your doctor, or follow healthy guidelines during pregnancy, these might have adverse outcomes on your baby. Women who experience prenatal depression are also more likely to experience postpartum depression once their babies are born.

Perhaps the most important thing to understand about prenatal depression is that treatment is out there, and it is possible to feel better. Probably the biggest reason that women endure prenatal depression for so long is that they don’t seek treatment, don’t know that treatment exists for prenatal depression, or they feel too ashamed to ask for help.

Too often when we are expecting a baby, the focus is on our blossoming belly and all the excitement that is going to await us when our bundle of love arrives. It’s so easy for pregnant moms to kind of get lost in the shuffle. But, let us remember that mothers are human beings too – with needs, feelings, desires, thoughts, and dreams.

It is imperative for expectant mothers to check in with themselves often and seek help if needed. For family and friends, it is important to support the expectant mother with love and empathy.

Always, seek the advice of a medical professional if you think that you have prenatal depression.

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