If you’re pregnant with depression, you might feel isolated, alone, and guilty. But the truth is that depression while expecting is probably more common than you think.
How do you know when to seek help? And what can you do at home to cope with pregnant depression?
In this guide, you’ll learn about pregnant depression symptoms, what causes it, professional treatments, and coping tools to try yourself.
Pregnant Depression Symptoms
Depression is a mental health disorder that affects your mood, thoughts, behavior, and physical health. During pregnancy, you may experience depression for the first time or your current depression may worsen. Perinatal depression is depression during pregnancy and up to the first year after birth. Perinatal depression affects 1 in 7 women—or about 15% of pregnancies.
Especially during pregnancy, most people go through ups and downs. However, if your depression lasts for more than 2 weeks and makes your daily life difficult, you could be diagnosed with clinical depression.
Symptoms of pregnant depression include:
- Feeling depressed or very sad daily
- Difficulty enjoying pregnancy
- Difficulty being excited for the baby
- Difficulty enjoying activities you used to
- Sleeping more or less
- Eating more or less
- Withdrawing from friends or family
- Crying for no reason
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of energy
- Feeling guilty
- Thoughts about feeling like an inadequate mother
- Thoughts about harming yourself or the baby
Many people who experience pregnant depression also experience anxiety. Your anxiety might be so bad that it causes depression. Depression and anxiety can also feed into each other, making both disorders worse.
If you think you have depression or anxiety, talk to your doctor to get an official diagnosis. At first, you might feel guilty or selfish about taking time to get help. But it’s one of the most selfless things you can do for your baby. Treating pregnant depression makes baby bonding easier. It also improves your physical health as well as your baby’s. Getting help now makes it less likely that depression will continue after birth (postpartum depression).
If you have thoughts about harming yourself or your baby, please seek immediate mental health help. Mothers who have these thoughts usually don’t act on them and feel guilty for thinking that way. Still, it’s important to seek help to ensure the thoughts don’t worsen.
Causes of Pregnant Depression
What causes pregnant depression? Why do some people get depressed during pregnancy while others are elated? If you’re pregnant with depression, the cause can be difficult to pinpoint, but there’s a few factors to consider.
Pregnant depression may be caused by life events like negative situations, big changes, or overwhelm. Examples include:
- Difficulty in romantic relationship or abusive situations
- Difficulty in relationships with friends or family
- Family death
- Lack of social support
- Leaving work
- Moving homes
- Financial stressors
- Stopping unhealthy coping mechanisms that hid the depression prior (drinking, smoking, etc.)
If you’re pregnant with depression, it may also be caused by physical factors, including:
- Changing hormone levels
- Fatigue or lack of sleep
- Family history of depression (genetics)
- Stopping anti-depressant medication during pregnancy (never stop taking medication without the advice of your doctor)
Professional Treatment for Pregnant Depression
If you’re pregnant with depression, there’s two main ways your doctor can suggest treating it.
Often the best treatment for depression is psychotherapy. You can find a psychotherapist by asking your doctor for a referral or by Googling professionals in your area. Keep in mind that finding the right therapist is crucial—you might need to test out a few to see who you resonate with best.
If you don’t have workplace health insurance coverage, therapy can be expensive. You can Google “sliding scale therapists” in your city to find professionals who adjust their rates to your income. You can also ask your doctor or community health center for low-cost alternatives. Group therapy is another option that’s less expensive. It’s a good idea to work with a professional who has experience treating people during pregnancy.
Although there’s many types of psychotherapy, there’s 2 main types that benefit depression the most: Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT). Both require frequent appointments with a therapist who will ask you questions about your symptoms and experiences. They’ll then teach you ways to cope with your depression.
The second option is to use medication to alter the chemicals in your body, relieving depression. There’s 2 main types of medications for depression: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Some antidepressants aren’t safe to take during pregnancy or breastfeeding and could affect your baby. Talk to your doctor about safe options.
It’s important to note that antidepressants can significantly help some people, but life changes are often still necessary. Medication is good to take to stop yourself from spiraling further into depression. However, it’s usually combined with some type of therapy for more effective and lasting results.
5 Coping Tools If You’re Pregnant with Depression
If you’re pregnant with depression, the best advice is to seek professional treatment from your doctor and/or a psychotherapist. With that being said, some people don’t seek treatment because of stigmas, availability of help, or cost barriers. In these cases, trying to cope with depression at home is better than nothing.
Consider that treatment for depression is often a combination of several different treatments. Since everyone’s depression looks different, so will their treatment. For that reason, you may have to experiment to find solutions that work best for you. Try a few of the ideas below for coping with prenatal depression.
Self-Guided CBT Workbooks
As we discussed above, research shows that CBT is an effective treatment for depression. If you can’t afford a psychotherapist and there’s no low-cost options in your area, it’s a good idea to try a self-guided CBT workbook.
If you’re looking for a free option, we recommend, “Coping with Depression During Pregnancy: A Cognitive Behavior Therapy-Based Self-Management Guide for Women.” This workbook was created by professionals at the BC Partners for Mental Health and Substance Use Information. It consists of 6 modules, so you can skip to the section you think may be most beneficial.
- Module 1 & 2: Introduction and information
- Module 3: Self-care: The NEST-S program
- Module 4: Solving problems & challenging depressive thinking
- Module 5: Relapse prevention
- Module 6: Worksheets & Tips
Increase Your Social Supports
Research shows that there’s a link between pregnant depression and low social support. A 2021 study found that women who reported low emotional, social, and information support were 3 to 4 times more likely to experience depression during pregnancy. In other words, the quantity and quality of your connections affect your mental health. You can increase your social support by:
- Downloading apps to meet new moms
- Going to child birthing classes
- Reconnecting with old friends or family
- Entering couples therapy to tackle challenging relationships
For more ideas, read: Social Support During Pregnancy: Why It’s Critical & 10 Ways To Get It
Meditation can be helpful for a variety of reasons, especially if you’re pregnant with depression. A 2017 study concluded that mindfulness meditation can be beneficial for pregnant women with depression, anxiety, and stress. Not sure where to start? Consider these guided meditations on YouTube:
- 19-minute mindfulness prenatal meditation
- 9-minute meditation for finding your deep breath during pregnancy
- 5-minute meditation you can do anywhere
Exercising during pregnancy is healthy for most pregnant people. Not only does it help you physically, but exercise also impacts your mind. A 2021 study suggested that exercise may help prevent and reduce prenatal depression and depressive symptoms. Looking for ideas to get active? Read: 11 Easy Pregnancy Exercise Ideas That You’ll Actually Do
Yoga is a lighter form of exercise that can help pregnant depression. A 2022 review of research concluded that yoga significantly improved depression scores in pregnant women. However, more research needs to be done to confirm those results.
If you want to try yoga for the first time, consider taking a prenatal yoga class. You can also read Prenatal Yoga: Your Ultimate Guide. Not sure where to start? Learn these 5 poses below first.
Summary: Pregnant with Depression
If you’re pregnant with depression, you’re far from alone—even if it doesn’t feel that way. The first step is to get a diagnosis from your doctor. Your doctor can help you decide if psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both is appropriate. You can also experiment with different coping mechanisms at home to see what helps your depression. Remember that seeking help is the opposite of selfish. Taking time to work on your mental health positively impacts your baby too.
Do You Have a Fetal Doppler Yet?
Fetal dopplers are handheld devices that allow you to hear your baby’s heartbeat before she’s even born. The probe picks up the heartbeat and amplifies it through speakers. Many parents say it helps them bond with their baby—and bonding before birth can help reduce your chances of postpartum depression.