Depression and anxiety in pregnancy: How to mentally prepare for a baby

Posted in Pregnancy Health.
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Many women are familiar with the physical changes that come with pregnancy. After all, you’re growing a small human inside of you. But it’s the mental changes that can catch many of us off guard.

Depression and anxiety in pregnancy

In fact, the Royal Women’s Hospital Victoria website says about 15 percent of women will have depression or anxiety during pregnancy. So the more we talk about it, the more women can start to recognise the signs and seek help.

“Some of the things that really can become challenging for women during pregnancy are things like managing your work, relationships and finances. They add to the overall anxiety and stress that comes with life and pregnancy,” says Diane Zalitis, a midwife and clinical lead of Pregnancy, Birth and Baby.

Listen to Diane Zalitis on Feed Play Love:

When to get help for depression and anxiety in pregnancy

Although it’s normal to experience mixed emotions during pregnancy, particularly in that first trimester, if they continue for a prolonged period – it’s time to get help.

“Hormonal changes are going on in your body, and it can be a real shock to the system,” says Diane. “It could be crying at the drop of a hat, and that can continue all the way through, and you might think, ‘I’m losing the plot here’. But anxiety, if you’ve got anything that’s lasting longer than two weeks, particularly signs of anxiety and depression, then that’s something that’s of concern.

“And obviously, there are some women who already have these mental health conditions as well when they become pregnant. So it’s essential to speak to your doctor and be aware that pregnancy adds an extra layer of complexity if you already have mental health issues.”

Other symptoms of depression in pregnancy could include:

  • feeling depressed a lot of the time
  • feeling irritable, angry or anxious a lot of the time
  • crying a lot 
  • trouble sleeping, extreme fatigue, tiredness, forgetfulness and trouble concentrating
  • losing interest in hobbies and activities
  • reduced appetite 
  • morbid and anxious thoughts 
  • excessive feelings about guilt and failure 
  • thoughts of harming yourself

Other symptoms of anxiety in pregnancy could include:

  • feeling worried, stressed or tense a lot of the time
  • trouble sleeping
  • panic attacks

Does depression increase when dads are preparing for fatherhood?

Diane says that one in 20 men will have anxiety and depression during pregnancy, the problem being that many of them can fly under the radar when the focus is mainly on mum and bub.  

“They may be going off to visits and checks, but that’s still focused on mum and the baby – a little bit on him but generally not. And so he’s a little bit out of that loop. So everybody must be aware that it can happen to him too.”

How to resolve fears that may come up during pregnancy

There are lots of different options for classes when it comes to preparing yourself for pregnancy and childbirth – but Diane says one of the crucial things to do is to acknowledge what you are fearful about.  

“Spend some time with yourself and with your partner. Jot down some notes, really think about [everything] from labour, from birth to having this baby,” says Diane. “What are the things you are fearful of, that you’re anxious about … find a way to work on those. What helps you relax to get through this?”

Although you may not have all the answers – you can still seek help for anything unresolved.

Easier said than done?

There is a heavily promoted picture in the media of what pregnancy should look like, and this can make it difficult for mums to ask for help. 

“You’re not always the person to recognise that you need the help and that might be why you don’t always put your hand up for it,” says Diane. “When you’re really unwell, it’s hard for you to see that you’re unwell.

“It’s really important that the circle around you can go, ‘Okay, her behaviour is not normal. I don’t think she’s travelling okay.’ And they make the phone call and go with you to the doctor and be your advocate because sometimes you’re in it so deep, you can’t see it enough to speak about it.”

Nurses and midwives are also trained to screen for depression and anxiety. 

“For most people who work in this space all of the time, they’re not going to judge you. In fact, in many ways [they’re] expecting to hear from you that it’s like this. During pregnancy, and after pregnancy, there are a series of questions that they’re going to ask you about how you’re going.”

If you – or someone you know – are expecting a baby or have recently become a parent, and are finding things super-tough, please get in touch with PANDA. They’re on standby, ready to support mums and dads through difficult times.

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