6 Relatable Reasons You Should Consider Therapy During Pregnancy
Pregnancy can be an exciting time, but it can also be stressful and bring out emotions such as depression and anxiety.
One of the things you can do to feel better is to see a therapist.
In this post, we’re outlining 6 reasons why you may want to consider therapy during pregnancy.
Before we jump into it, we should note that there are many different types of therapy. If you’re interested, talk to your doctor or therapist about which is right for you.
#1 Prenatal Depression and Anxiety are Common
If you’re experiencing a mental health issue during pregnancy, you’re not alone. Between 14-23% of women experience clinical depression during their pregnancy, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
Dealing with these issues can be alienating enough, but being pregnant can add another level. In a time where you think you’re supposed to be happy, you may feel even worse about feeling depressed or anxious.
Signs of prenatal depression include:
- Being in a depressed mood for long periods of time
- Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Feeling hopeless
- Feeling worthless
- Sleep changes
There are several different types of anxiety disorders. Signs of prenatal general anxiety include:
- Excessive worries
- Panic attacks
- Sleep changes
- Muscle aches
- Poor concentration
If you can relate to the signs above, talk to your doctor to see if you have clinical anxiety or depression. Many antidepressants haven’t been studied enough to deem them safe during pregnancy. For this reason, sometimes therapy can be the best option.
There haven’t been many studies on the effectiveness of therapy on mentally ill pregnant women specifically. However, there is a lot of research on how it affects the general population. An analysis of studies on the subject concluded that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—a therapy targeting thought patterns and behaviors—was consistently effective for anxiety disorders. CBT can also work for depression. One study showed that after 16 weeks of therapy, 58% of people felt a significant improvement.
#2 Helps Manage Stress
Even if you aren’t or have never experienced clinical depression or anxiety, pregnancy can bring about a lot of stress. If you’re like many women, you may feel like there’s not enough time to read all the pregnancy books, buy all of the baby supplies and go to all the appointments—all while keeping on top of your daily chores.
While it’s normal to feel stressed, talking to someone about it can help. A therapist can help you develop an action plan that you can use to tackle your to-do list. He or she can also help you set realistic expectations for yourself and help you realize thought patterns that are stressing you out. To keep calm, you’ll also learn relaxation techniques that work for your situation and lifestyle.
#3 Helps Prevent Postpartum Depression and the Baby Blues
Mood swings after labor—a characteristic of the baby blues—are experienced by 80% of new mothers. Although they usually subside, sometimes these emotions are intense and prolonged. In this case, the baby blues can turn into postpartum depression (PPD), which is experienced by 10% of mothers in the first year. Within the first 3 months, 20% of women have an episode of minor or major depression. These statistics make depression the most commonly experienced childbearing complication, according to studies.
If you are already feeling depressed or have a history of mental illness in your family, you may want to consider seeing a therapist to prevent PPD.
There are several types of therapy that may help. You may want to try CBT and interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) first because research has shown that they’re effective.
One study divided pregnant women into two groups: those would receive CBT and those who wouldn’t. Out of the group that had CBT, 9% reported depression. However, those who didn’t receive therapy experienced depression at a higher rate—33%.
A similar study was done to evaluate the effectiveness of IPT. Surprisingly, none of the therapy patients got PPD. This is compared to the 33% who didn’t receive therapy and who had depressive symptoms.
You can also read our guide on preventing postpartum depression and the baby blues.
#4 May Decrease Risk of Complications
Anything you do to reduce your stress—including therapy—can help keep your baby healthy.
Experts aren’t exactly sure how stress affects pregnancy and your baby, but several studies show that high-stress can be a risk factor. Here are some interesting findings:
- In one study, researchers found that those who were stressed during pregnancy were more likely to give birth to children who later had hyperactivity or a conduct disorder.
- A 2017 study found that prenatal stress late in pregnancy can cause slower growth of the fetus. Researchers also found that prenatal stress early in pregnancy can cause a baby to grow and mature faster than others.
- In a review of research, authors found that stress during pregnancy was associated with difficult child temperament at 12 months old.
- Some studies have demonstrated a link between prenatal depression and cognitive and language difficulties in children. However, other studies contradict this finding.
More research needs to be done to determine how strong the link is and why stress can cause these effects. One theory is that stress can trigger an inflammatory response. Inflammation may lead to a variety of problems, including developmental problems, lower-than-normal birth weight, and early birth. Stress can also increase your overall health and lead to problems such as high blood pressure and heart problems. In turn, these issues can affect a developing baby.
Since therapy can help you deal with difficult emotions, it can be a good way to decrease your baby’s risk of complications. A recent pilot study showed that both CBT and mindfulness effectively reduced stress levels and burnout.
#5 Helps Deal With Childhood Issues
When you think of therapy, the two questions that come to mind are “how does that make you feel?” and “tell me about your childhood.” With these stereotypes, you probably knew that this one was going to be on the list—but it’s for a good reason.
Some people notice that pregnancy can bring about memories of a traumatic childhood or family issues. Although it may be a trauma such as abuse, it could also be another type of adverse childhood experience (ACE) including:
- Seeing physical or verbal conflict between parents
- Having a parent with a mental illness or substance abuse problem
- Neglect or emotionally distant parents
Unfortunately, ACEs are common and are experienced by about 60% of Americans. While these situations may be long passed, they may still affect how you think and behave today. For example, you may have worries about raising your child in a similar way or you may notice more depressed feelings as memories are triggered. These emotions may intensify after labor if they aren’t dealt with. One study found that mothers who have experienced an ACE are significantly less likely to have pregnancy complications if they feel supported by those around them. Although talking about it with a friend may help, you may find it safer to talk to a trusted therapist.
#6 There are Low-Cost Alternatives
Some people shy away from therapy because of the cost they may have to pay out-of-pocket. Unfortunately, it’s true that therapy can be expensive if it’s not covered by your health insurance. A cost for an hour session can range anywhere from $75 to $200+. If your therapist recommends weekly sessions, those fees can add up quickly. Although there sometimes isn’t a replacement for in-person therapy, there are some other options if you can’t afford it.
If you’re in need of some low-cost alternatives, here are some options:
- Low-cost in-person therapy— Resources for low-cost therapy will vary depending on your location. However, many therapists work on a sliding scale that’s adjusted for your income.
- Low-cost online therapy— Online therapy uses licensed therapists you can talk to through chat or video call. See a list of online therapy websites here.
- Free peer counseling— There are some apps where you can talk to a peer-to-peer support person for free. Although they aren’t medical professionals, they are trained to deal with a variety of situations. One app you could try out is 7 Cups.
- Free AI counseling— Some apps use artificial intelligence technology to help teach you CBT techniques. Since they’re essentially run by robots, it isn’t perfect and isn’t as effective as actual therapy, but it can be a lot better than doing nothing. If you’re interested in trying one, you can check out Woebot.
- Free self-help options— If you can’t afford therapy, another option is to read and practice the information provided in a therapy self-help book. Some popular options include Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy and Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think.
Have you tried therapy during pregnancy? If so, did it help? Comment your experience below. If you have any pregnant friends, share this post with them, too!
P.S. Have you used a fetal doppler yet? These handheld devices allow you to listen to your baby’s heartbeat inside the womb. Pretty amazing, right? Check them out here.