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Here's What You Need to Know About This Common Pregnancy Symptom

Photograph by Twenty20

After dealing with postpartum depression after the births of my first two children, I totally believed I knew what to expect when expecting my third child. As it turns out, I wasn’t as prepared as I thought. This time, I started dealing with depression early in the pregnancy. I found myself struggling to stay positive and dreading a lot of day-to-day tasks that had previously felt like no big deal. I felt especially worried about the future and what would happen when our third baby arrived. I felt taken off guard by all of the negative emotions I was experiencing, especially since I had been preparing myself to manage them after my baby was born.

Even though prenatal depression doesn’t get nearly as much attention, it goes hand in hand with postpartum depression. Many mom’s experience these symptoms but don’t know how to address or treat their depression since they’ve not been educated on what to expect.

I talked with Dr. Charles Schaeffer, who works as a psychologist with the Seleni Institute supporting women as they adjust to pregnancy and becoming a new mom. He shared a little with me about prenatal depression, what women should be looking for and how they can be proactive during pregnancy to prevent depression and anxiety.

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What should expecting moms be looking for if they have concerns about prenatal depression?

Some of the things that are most common in prenatal depression are any feelings of ambivalence or worry. They are usually the first sign that a mom might want to seek extra support. And generally avoiding thinking about the pregnancy is a really clear sign of prenatal depression.

Don’t be afraid to reach out. It is pretty common to need extra support.

How common is prenatal depression in expectant women?

I don’t think the numbers are there like they are in postpartum, but generally during the perinatal period (depression) is pretty common. I would say 80 to 90 percent will develop the “baby blues” and of that 80 or 90 percent, 15 to 20 percent of women will experience depression before or after the baby is born.

Are certain moms more at risk for postpartum depression than others?

Any mom who has a history of depression, anxiety or any mental health concerns in the past are at a higher risk.

When should a mom seek out help for prenatal depression?

(Seek help) if more days than not, expecting mom is waking up and feeling low energy, doesn’t really want to do anything, or is really aggravated or irritated. Generally the clear signs are if, for two or three months, they have no real interest in doing activities they used to enjoy and really low mood.

Does having prenatal depression put a mom at higher risk for postpartum depression?

Generally, for many moms, if they are feeling depressed during the prenatal period, there is a good chance if it hasn’t been treated it will continue into the postpartum period.

What preventative measures can a newly expecting mom take to guard against prenatal depression or anxiety?

The basics—sleep, diet and exercise—are the things that keep us well, and when those things start to falter that is when things get a little rockier. What keeps us resilient are those basic functions and activities. The other thing is support. Moms that I’ve seen who don’t have a good support system and conflicts within their relationships prior to the birth of the child are going to need more support. I’d say, don’t be afraid to reach out. It is pretty common to need extra support.

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Is there anything else you feel is important for expecting moms to understand about prenatal depression?

One of the most common experiences that happen during the prenatal and postpartum period are really scary thoughts about what life is going to be like, about what is going to happen to the baby and anything along those lines. Those are 100 percent healthy. A lot of folks get really upset and really ruminate. They think they are going crazy, but it is common for every expectant parent to have really scary thoughts or worrisome thoughts about what happens next. Being open to talking about them and sharing them and knowing they are just scary thoughts that are likely to pass like any other thought will help.

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