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Depression during pregnancy

Pregnancy is supposed to be at time of joy and anticipation, but for many it’s a time of anxiety and sadness. It’s believed some 10 – 20 percent of women could experience depression at some stage during their pregnancies.

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What is Depression?

Depression is a mood disorder that involves chemical changes in your brain. When you’re pregnant, a surge in hormones could affect your brain’s chemicals, making you feel extremely sad or anxious.

Depression can be described as feeling sad, unhappy or down in the dumps. It often feels like a dark cloud has descended over your head and just won’t lift.

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Symptoms of Depression

Mood swings are relatively normal during pregnancy as hormones surge through your body and so women will ignore the symptoms, thinking that it’s normal. When you feel any of the following symptoms for more than two weeks though, it’s best to get help:

  • A persistent feeling of sadness
  • Crying a lot
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Difficulty in sleeping
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Not wanting to participate in events that are usually relaxing and fun
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide

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Possible Causes of Depression

A whole range of things could trigger depression in a pregnant woman:

  • History of depression or mental illness
  • Major event, including divorce or death in the family
  • Exhaustion
  • A lack of support from friends or family
  • Complications in your pregnancy
  • Previous miscarriages or pregnancy problems

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Treatment for Depression

The most important thing is to accept that you may be feeling depressed and make a conscious decision to deal with it properly. A woman who doesn’t deal with those feelings could harm her unborn baby, by not eating, taking up smoking or abusing alcohol. In extreme cases, she may try to take her own life.

Here are some tips when feeling mildly depressed:

  • Rest as often as you can
  • Allow friends and family to help out as much as possible.
  • Ask for help around the house and at work
  • Speak to your husband, partner or friends about how you’re feeling
  • Go for a walk
  • Visit a friend
  • Ask your mother for advice
  • Take a deep breath and make a conscious decision to feel better

If the depression lasts for longer than two weeks, do the following:

  • Visit your doctor for advice
  • See a therapist
  • Join a group that deals specifically with depression

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To Medicate or Not To Medicate

It’s a controversial decision; do you take anti-depressants or don’t you. The decision really should be made by your doctor.

Many women, who were on anti-depressants before falling pregnant, will often continue with their medication, to prevent a relapse. Depending on the medication, this is perfectly safe for your unborn baby.

Should the depression be severe, your doctor will however, prescribe an anti-depressant that will not harm your child.

The old saying that a happy mother means a happy baby, is very true. A mother who is extremely depressed could cause harm to herself and her child. A pregnancy is meant to end in happiness and contentment and not devastation.

For further information, contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Support Group:

Suicide Helpline: 0800 567 567
Mental Health Line: 011 262 6396

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