Depression, suffering and anger are all part of being human. – Janet Fitch
Depression is the inability to construct a future. – Rollo May
Depression is a mood disorder, a biological illness, which affects 14-23% of women during pregnancy. Depression makes a woman feel sad, bleak, helpless, anxious, irritable, fatigued and lacking in energy.
Depression can be treated. Left untreated, it can lead the woman to poor nutrition, drinking and smoking causing the babies to be born premature, less active, and have developmental problems. Antenatal depression is a strong precursor to Postpartum Depression.
Depression treatment is psychotherapy, medication, and self-care. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is the often used psychotherapy. A woman can do it herself after suitable instructions. Medication is antidepressants. These pose a very small risk to fetus. A few supplements are also claimed to help. But these should not be taken without doctor’s advice. Self-care involves proper diet, adequate sleep, exercise, and pregnancy-yoga.
Several women have depression during pregnancy. So, you are not alone. Do not therefore hesitate to speak to your doctor at the first appearance of the symptoms of depression.
Pregnancy is a joyous period for women. But for a few the joy is clouded by mood swings. We all have transitory mood swings. But if these last a few weeks or a few months, then these signal depression.
Depressions are biological illnesses caused by changes in brain chemistry. Such changes may be triggered by the hormonal changes during pregnancy. This is called antenatal depression. But except in name, it is similar to clinical depression.
Symptoms of depression vary from person to person. But if you have one or more (usually five) of the following symptoms for most of the day, nearly every day, for two weeks or more, it signals depression:
• feelings of sadness, bleakness, hopelessness, and anxiety;
• lack of interest or pleasure in doing anything;
• feeling tired or having little energy;
• difficulty concentrating;
• difficulty remembering.
• feeling emotionally numb.
• extreme irritability.
• sense of dread about everything, including the pregnancy.
• feelings of failure, or guilt.
• trouble getting to sleep, waking up in the night or sleeping too much;
• overeating or decreased appetite.
• weight loss/gain unrelated to pregnancy
• low self-esteem, or feelings of guilt or failure
• fidgeting a lot, or moving and speaking very slowly
• loss of interest in sex.
• thoughts of suicide or self-harm may occur.
• inability to get excited about the pregnancy, and/or baby
• feeling of disconnection with the baby, and an inability to form/feel a bond with the developing baby.
Anyone can have depression. But the following factors, or a combination of these, increases the risk of getting depression:
• Family history of depression. Risk of suicide also goes up.
• Personal history of depression or anxiety in the past – like during an earlier pregnancy or after the birth of a previous child. Also the risk of postpartum psychosis, a rare but very serious condition that involves hallucinations, increases.
• Life stress events, such as financial problems, the end of a relationship, the death of a close friend or family member, or a job loss.
• Lack of support like having relationship problems or an unsupportive partner or having your baby on your own, or if you feel isolated from friends or family
• Unplanned pregnancy finding out you’re pregnant when you didn’t plan to be.
• Domestic violence and emotional abuse that tend to get worse when you’re pregnant.
• Infertility treatments
• Complications in pregnancy
Antenatal depression is treatable with psychotherapy, medication and self-care.
• Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is the often used psychotherapy. It helps the mother recognise her emotions and counter her negative thoughts. She is encouraged to do CBT herself after step by step instructions in CBT through books and talks; or she may be advised do it in sessions with a therapist.
• She may also need antidepressants. Not enough evidence is available that these are completely safe to take in pregnancy. A few of these pose a very small risk of birth defects that include fetal heart and skull abnormalities. Doctor weighs the risks and benefits to the mother and to the baby to decide on antidepressants. If the mother was on mental health medication before pregnancy, she should not stop these without asking the doctor. Also, she should not start any medication, including herbal medication, without asking the doctor.
• Supplements. Several supplements such as St. John’s wort, SAMe, Saffron extract, 5-HTP and DHEA are being marketed as being helpful in depression. These seem to help some people but sufficient evidence is not available for their efficacy. A few of these can interfere with prescription medications or cause dangerous interactions and may be unsafe. Consult your doctor before taking any supplements or herbal medication.
Acupuncture is claimed to help relieve depression. But the evidence for its effectiveness is ambiguous or outright contradictory. The World Health Organization has recognized acupuncture as effective in treating mild to moderate depression. – Dr Andrew Weil in ‘Depression, Health, World, Organization.’
Diet, sleep, and physical activity are just as important as medication and therapy — sometimes more so.
Diet and nutrition.
Diet is so important to mental health that a new field of medicine called nutritional psychiatry has grown around it. Many foods have been linked to mood changes, the ability to handle stress and mental clarity.
• Foods to avoid are:
o Alcohol: it depletes serotonin, which makes people prone to anxiety, depression and panic attack.
o Caffeine: It lowers serotonin and increases the risk for anxiety, depression, and poor sleep. Reduce intake of coffee, tea, and hot cocoa.
• Foods to take are those rich in:
o B12 and folate. These prevent mood disorders and dementias. Sources: beetroot, lentils, almonds, spinach, liver (folate); liver, chicken, fish (B12)
o Vitamin D. Its deficiency is associated with different mood disorders. Sources: sun exposure; breakfast cereals, breads, juices, milk; high-quality supplements.
o Selenium. It decreases depression. Sources: cod, Brazil nuts, walnuts, poultry.
o Omega-3 fatty acids. These improve cognitive and behavioral function. Low levels of omega-3 fats leads to mood swings and depression. Sources: cod, haddock, salmon, halibut, nut oils, seeds, walnuts, and algae; high-quality supplements
o Endorphins. These enhance mood and promote a sense of well-being. Source: dark chocolate
Lack of sleep (insomnia), or disturbed/obstructive sleep (apnea) are linked to depression. People with insomnia are 10 times more likely to have clinical depression and 17 times more likely to have clinical anxiety, and people with apnea are five times more likely to have clinical depression, than people who sleep normally. To help get sleep, lower room temperature, follow a schedule, avoid naps during the day, listen to relaxing music, try a low carb/high fat diet and eat 3-4 hours before sleep time, exercise, and practice yoga and meditation.
Exercise releases endorphins, natural cannabis-like brain chemicals, and other natural brain chemicals, that enhance your sense of well-being. Depression causes tiredness and lack of energy. It may therefore be difficult to begin exercising. So begin with a walk for five or ten minutes and gradually increase to 30-45 minutes a day for three to five days a week. Results will appear after a few weeks because exercise is a long term treatment. Therefore pick up an exercise – walking, cycling, swimming – that you enjoy.so you will continue to do it
Yoga focuses on the balance between your mind, body and breath. This balance is created through:
• physical exercises and postures (asanas)
• breathing exercises (pranayama)
Yoga improves your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. It helps you to:
• Improve your circulation, muscle tone and flexibility; to keep the body supple and relieve tension around the cervix by opening up the pelvic region. This prepares to-be-mothers for labor and delivery.
• Alleviate the effect of common symptoms such as morning sickness, painful leg cramps, swollen ankles, lower-back pain and constipation.
• Stay mentally agile through relaxation, breathing and meditation.
• Train you to breathe deeply and relax consciously, helping you to face the demands of labor and childbirth.
• Feel calm, and ease muscle tension.
• Recover faster post-delivery.
If you are already doing Yoga, you may continue to do pregnancy yoga during pregnancy. Since most miscarriages happen during the first trimester, you may, as a precaution, decide not to do Yoga during that period. Although there is no evidence that doing yoga, or any other exercise, during the first trimester will harm your pregnancy.
If you have never before done Yoga, then do not begin it in the first trimester. Begin in the second trimester, after 14 weeks of pregnancy. Join a pregnancy Yoga class. Your instructor will start you gently and slowly and modify the posture to suit the stage of your pregnancy.
• Lying on your back after 16 weeks.
• Breathing exercises that involve holding your breath or taking short, forceful breaths.
• Strong stretches or difficult positions that put you under strain.
• Lying on your tummy (prone).
• Upside-down postures (inversions).
• Back bends.
• Strong twists.
A study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology in December 2015 found no evidence of fetal distress in any of the 26 postures attempted. These included downward facing dog and savasana. But avoid any poses that feel uncomfortable.
The Art of Living recommends only nine asanas (postures) for pregnancy Yoga. These include Shavasana (Corpse Pose) and Yoga Nidra (Yogic sleep).
You may restart postpartum yoga six weeks after a vaginal delivery; and a longer period after a Caesarean section as advised by your doctor. The postpartum asanas help combat back and neck aches and also help breastfeeding mothers.
To help yourself handle depression:
• Talk about your concerns with your partner, family and friends. They may offer you a proper perspective or practical help. And simply talking about your problems makes these seem more manageable.
• Take time to relax. Give yourself some “me time.” Read, take a calming bath, lunch out with friends, watch an entertaining movie or play. In short do anything that takes your mind away from your concerns and gives you physical and mental relaxation.
Untreated depression can lead to poor nutrition, drinking and smoking. These can cause premature birth, low birth weight, and developmental problems. Babies of ‘depressed’ mothers may be less active, have lower attention span, be more agitated, have behavioral problems and delayed cognitive and language development as compared to babies born to normal mothers.
Antenatal depression is a strong precursor to Postpartum Depression: a major depression in the weeks and months after childbirth. It affects mother’s health and quality of life and also the well-being of the baby. It can cause bonding issues with the baby and can contribute to sleeping and feeding problems for the baby.
If you have symptoms of depression, remember, you are not alone. Between 14-23% of women struggle with some symptoms of depression during pregnancy. Antenatal depression can be treated and managed. Most women recover with a few weeks, or a few months, of treatment.
So do not feel shy. Speak to your doctor at the first appearance of the symptoms of depression.
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