Many people have images of the joyous peaceful pregnant woman – smiling down at her belly with her hand resting on its round bulge. Or the beaming new mother, holding her beautiful sleeping baby in the nursery. While these images are great for announcement cards, photo albums, and magazine ads, they don’t fully depict the often mixed and confusing feelings of a pregnant woman or new mother.
I’m not saying pregnancy and newborns do not create joyous feelings. I wouldn’t have spent 11 years in my profession if I didn’t believe pregnancy and birth were truly amazing moments of our lives. However, when you look at reality and not just snapshots, there is a lot more behind the scenes – and for any pregnant woman or new mother, it’s a good idea to prepare and know there is help rather than to ignore and be blindsided. Depression and anxiety during pregnancy and after the birth is common, real and treatable.
Let’s start with the first point – about 20 percent of pregnant women and mothers of newborns have reported depression. The actual figures are much higher if you include women who experience the symptoms but don’t report them.
Moving on to my second point, what you are feeling is real. Consider the fact that as a pregnant woman, your body and hormones are changing dramatically. You feel nauseous and may even be vomiting. You are probably getting less sleep than you’re used to (or need). And, while you may be excited about the new addition to your family, it is entirely reasonable to also feel anxiety or be overwhelmed about the life changes that come with having a new child.
When you move into post-partum, once again, you have hormones that have pretty much hit their peak in terms of unstable activity. You are getting dramatically less sleep than you most likely have ever had. You have a baby in need of your support nearly every hour of the day. And your body is, once again, changing dramatically.
It makes you wonder how any woman escapes feeling some level of depression and anxiety during these times of her life.
This brings me to my final point – it is treatable. This is why it’s important to monitor your feelings beginning early in your pregnancy and throughout the birth and following months. I usually begin the conversation during the first OB visit with my patients. We talk about whether there’s a history of anxiety or depression. We talk about the kind of support you have. And, we talk about the importance of keeping an eye on your feelings and getting help – whether it’s medication or counseling – early.
At the post-partum checkup, we survey new mothers to determine how they are truly feeling. Some of the questions include how much you are enjoying parts of your life, how often you’re laughing, how much sleep you’re getting, and how often you’re crying or feeling scared or panicky. One major question is whether you’ve had thoughts of harming yourself or your child. If there is any inclination toward that, you need help right away. The survey helps us determine if you could use some additional help – whether it’s counseling, medication, or simply some more support at home.
It’s nearly impossible to go through pregnancy and early motherhood without feeling some level of depression or anxiety. My advice for all pregnant woman and new moms is:
• Make sure you keep tabs on your feelings and share them with your doctor.
• Say yes to help from family and friends – they want to help, and you can use it.
• Spend time alone during the day – even if it’s just a daily shower.
• Get outside every day.
• If your partner is not as supportive as you need, talk to a friend, doctor or counselor to get more support.
Remember, it’s totally normal not to feel joyous all of the time. However, if you are feeling anxious or depressed, talk to your doctor about it. There are options to help you. You have enough on your plate as a new mother. Don’t feel like this is something you have to endure on your own.