Having a child is one of life’s greatest gifts; however, for some mothers, the stress of pregnancy and a child’s birth can be overwhelming. Pregnant women have to deal with numerous concerns throughout their pregnancy. Every ultrasound and lab test brings both excitement and worry. Women undergoing infertility treatment often experience additional stresses related to constant medical testing and hormone therapy. Then, the baby is born. Even for experienced mothers, taking care of a newborn is physically and emotionally demanding. The constant concern of your newborn’s welfare, lack of sleep, hormonal imbalances, and change in lifestyle and family dynamics puts a significant amount of pressure on mothers.
During or after pregnancy can be especially difficult for those struggling with a mental health disorder, including depression. Depression occurs in about 14% to 23% of women during pregnancy (American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2009) and in about 12% of women postpartum,referred to as postpartum depression (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). Postpartum “blues” is substantially more common, but often resolves within a week of delivery.
Depression not only has negative effects for the mother, but for the child as well. One study found that depression increased the likelihood of preterm delivery and low neonate weight (Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2016). Thus, depression in moms can have physical consequences to the baby.
Antidepressants are commonly prescribed for depression treatment; however, these medications pose potential risks to the fetus. Fortunately, there are effective therapies that do not involve medications. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be an especially effective psychological treatment. CBT incorporates cognitive and behavioral therapies with the goal of making positive changes in the mother’s thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Furthermore, incorporating mindfulness into therapy can help reduce depression and is a great practice for parenting. Family therapy is another component of therapy to address family dynamics.
Mothers should not face their depression alone. For the health of the mother and child, finding help is critical.
- Engage in counseling with a psychologist, who specializes in pregnancy and postpartum depression treatment.
- Contact your healthcare provider about finding resources and treatment.
- Use your family and friends to help you through this difficult time. Share your feelings and ask for their help. Don’t be shy to ask for help with cleaning, food preparation or babysitting while you nap. If you are financially able, you may want to pay a babysitter to help you out on a regular basis. Try care.com or ask friends for resources.
- Take care of your health. Getting rest, eating nutritious meals and exercise (when you are able) will help you both emotionally and physically. When your brain and body is nourished, you will have more capacity to care for your family.
- Don’t blame yourself. Pregnancy and postpartum depression is nothing to be ashamed about. In fact, you can use this experience to learn, grown and be a better parent.
- If you have any suicidal thoughts or thoughts about harming your baby, immediately contact someone who can help. Put your baby in a safe place and then seek assistance. If needed, call 911, go to the Emergency Room or contact your healthcare provider.