Antepartum Depression: Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Treatment
Pregnancy is a significant life event for parents, physically and emotionally. The body undergoes rapid changes, hormones surge (including the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin hormone (hCG), and it can be challenging to adjust. Emotions can seem difficult to manage; from one minute to the next you might feel delighted or anxious. We get it, we hear you, and we’re here to support you.
This blog explores the symptoms of antepartum depression, risk factors, and tips on how to help you love your pregnancy fully!
What is antepartum depression?
We often discuss postpartum depression, a mood disorder that can occur during or following childbirth for up to 15% of expecting parents. Antepartum depression, while not as well-recognized, is most common during the third trimester of pregnancy. Together, postpartum and antepartum depression, also referred to as prenatal depression, can impact as many as 1 in 7 parents.
Like any type of depression, antepartum depression can cause sadness or loss of interest and significantly impact your day-to-day life. It’s important to recognize the signs of depression and understand that you are not alone.
Symptoms of antepartum depression
Antepartum depression can present differently for everyone, but some common symptoms include:
- Sleeping too much or not enough
- Changes in energy levels, appetite, and libido
- Feeling overwhelmed and experiencing excessive anxiety
- Persistent feelings of guilt, dread, worthlessness, or hopelessness
- Low self-esteem, especially in your parenting abilities
- Loss of pleasure in your favorite activities
- Difficulty following prenatal care routines
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Having difficulty concentrating and remembering (pregnancy brain!)
- Drug or alcohol use
- Thoughts of giving up on life
We tend to focus on physical health during pregnancy, but mental health is just as important. If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, don’t hesitate to reach out to a loved one or a trusted medical provider for proper evaluation.
Antepartum depression risk factors and causes
When you’re pregnant, hormonal changes may affect the chemicals in your brain that control your mood, and external sources of stress definitely don’t help. There’s no sure way to predict who may be impacted by depression, but some risk factors to consider are:
- History of depression or anxiety
- Lack of social support
- Life hardships and stress
- Unexpected pregnancy
- Relationship problems
- History of trauma or abuse
- Infertility treatments
- Previous pregnancy loss
How is antepartum depression diagnosed and treated?
Antepartum depression can be challenging to diagnose, as some symptoms (think: changes in your sleep, libido, and energy levels) are natural parts of pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has long recommended depression screenings for pregnant and postpartum parents. Your healthcare provider should screen for antepartum depression at least once during your pregnancy, but that doesn’t mean you should wait until they bring it up! If your physician determines that you have depression, your treatment may include:
- Psychotherapy or counseling
- Group therapy
- Antidepressant medication or herbal remedies
- Lifestyle changes (exercising more, eating nutritious foods like Omega-3 fatty acids)
- Adequate rest
- Some studies suggest that listening to music and music therapy can play a role in treating depression
Can antepartum depression affect your pregnancy?
Yes, there’s a chance that antepartum depression may affect your pregnancy. Untreated depression can make it difficult to care for yourself, which may impact your baby’s growth and development. Untreated depression during pregnancy has been linked to:
- Low birth weight
- Preterm (early) delivery
- Emergency C-section delivery
- Postpartum depression
- Problems with the baby’s cognitive and behavioral development
Tips for supporting a partner experiencing antepartum depression
If your partner or loved one is dealing with antepartum depression, they might not feel comfortable reaching out for help — no matter how many times you say, “let me know if there’s anything I can do!” But that doesn’t mean they don’t need you. Try to be proactive with your support by:
- Asking how your partner or loved one is doing without always focusing on the pregnancy. (And if they do share, listen. That means no unsolicited advice!)
- Supporting their decision to seek treatment and helping them make time for self-care.
- Helping without being asked. Cook a healthy dinner, treat them to a spa day or do their laundry.
- Being a cheerleader. Pregnancy isn’t easy, even in the best of circumstances. Add in depression, and even the smallest tasks can seem overwhelming. Let them know you see and appreciate their efforts!
If you or a loved one think you may have antepartum depression, talk to a doctor as soon as possible. It’s not your fault you’re feeling this way, and you deserve treatment that can help you start feeling like yourself again.
There are a lot of resources available to support you during antepartum depression, never hesitate to reach out for support:
- SAMHSA’s National Helpline at (800) 662-4357
- MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health
- OASH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 - Office on Women’s Health
JunoDx.com and the materials and information it contains are not intended to be and do not constitute medical advice, other health advice, or diagnosis. Do not use JunoDx.com or the materials and information published at JunoDx.com as a substitute for medical care and treatment. You should always consult with a qualified physician or healthcare provider about your specific circumstances.