Pregnancy and Your Mental Health: The Complete Guide
In broader discussions of pregnancy and mental health, most people might think about things like postpartum depression or postnatal depression. However, maternal mental health is something we should think about at all stages of a woman‘s pregnancy - before conception, during pregnancy, and the period around birth - aka, perinatal mental health.
What are some common mental health problems that can occur in pregnancy, and how can they impact the baby and mom-to-be? This article will give an overview of just that, including things you can do to support your mental health or the mental health of a loved one during pregnancy.
Common Mental Health Issues That Can Occur During Pregnancy
There are several mental illnesses that commonly occur during pregnancy. We’ve listed them below, along with a description of warning signs to look out for.
1. Depression and Mood Disorders
Depression and other mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder, are common during pregnancy. Some estimates state that around 10% of pregnant women experience depression during pregnancy. Some risk factors that can increase the risk for depression during pregnancy are having a history of depression before becoming pregnant, financial issues, having an unwanted pregnancy, and not having a spouse or partner.
Depression during pregnancy can sometimes go unrecognized amongst all of the other physical and emotional changes that a woman experiences. Some warning signs of depression and other mood disorders include:
- Persistent low mood
- Feeling worthless or hopeless
- Not enjoying things you used to enjoy
- Low self-esteem or fears of inadequacy around becoming a new mother
- Thoughts of suicide
2. Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety or OCD, are another common type of mental disorder that can occur during pregnancy. Maternal anxiety is very common and is estimated to impact between 20-30% of women during or after their pregnancy. It’s also common for some pregnant women to experience both depression and anxiety, which can create additional challenges. Some risk factors for anxiety disorders during pregnancy include not having a spouse or partner, lower levels of social support, history of mental illness, and history of pregnancy loss or complications.
Much like depression, anxiety during pregnancy may go unnoticed amidst the typical worries and stresses that a pregnant woman experiences. How can you know if your worries are normal or a sign of an anxiety disorder? Some signs that it could be helpful to seek mental health services include:
- Excessive, near-constant worry about your pregnancy
- Intrusive thoughts about childbirth or pregnancy loss
- Having a hard time relaxing
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep
3. Eating Disorders
For people with a history of disordered eating, pregnancy can bring about a whole host of triggering experiences. One study found about a 10% increase in the rates of eating disorders among pregnant women. Eating disorders are particularly harmful during pregnancy as they can create complications for a growing baby, preventing them from getting the nutrition that they need.
While it’s common to worry about your weight during pregnancy, some signs of eating disorders include:
- Excessive exercise
- Preoccupation or excessive fear about gaining weight
- Avoidance of eating
- Binging on large quantities of food
How Can Pregnancy Impact Mental Health?
A pregnant woman’s mental health can be impacted by pregnancy in a few different ways. For many people, awaiting the arrival of a new baby is an exciting and joyous time, but it can also be a time of difficult life transitions and changes. You might find that your relationships with others and your identity are beginning to shift and change. This can create increased stress and anxiety that can negatively impact mental health.
Pregnancy is also a time when many pregnant women feel a sense of fear of whether they will be a good parent. This fear might be exacerbated by past childhood trauma and recollections of your own experience as a child.
Pregnancy hormones can also impact mental health. Many pregnant women experience mood swings and ‘baby blues’ during their pregnancies. This is all normal, and it’s important to go easy on yourself - you are growing another life inside of you!
How Can Mental Health Impact Pregnancy?
Your mental health can impact your pregnancy, and can even play a role in whether or not you get pregnant. Some recent studies have found a small relationship between higher stress levels and delays in conception.
In terms of mental health during pregnancy, higher levels of depression and anxiety can negatively impact your growing baby. Research finds that babies born to mothers with depression and anxiety disorders are more likely to have a lower birth weight and have stronger neurological responses to stress after birth.
Some Steps for Self-Care
Although maternal mental health is a big concern for some, thankfully there are several interventions that you can adopt to protect your mental health during pregnancy.
1. Talk, Talk, Talk!
If you have concerns about your mental health, one of the best things you can do is talk to a healthcare professional. Your healthcare provider can provide more information on treatment interventions, including referrals to a mental health care specialist, such as an expert in talk therapy, psychotherapy, or psychiatry. Your doctor may also be able to prescribe medication, like antidepressants, which can help improve your mood and reduce mental health symptoms.
2. Seek Social Support
Social support for mental health during pregnancy might look different depending on your specific needs. You could start by talking to a family member or friend about your worries or your need for additional support. There are also support groups for pregnant women that you may be able to join. Check your local hospital system’s website to see if they offer support groups in your area.
3. Practice Self-Care
We hear this phrase all the time. It’s all over the internet, and a lot of the time it’s easier said than done to ‘practice self care.’
Doing basic things such as ensuring that you’re taking care of yourself by getting enough sleep, drinking water, moving your body in ways that feel good, and practicing positive self-talk are all small things that make a big difference.