The Depression Series Part 4: Prenatal and Postpartum Depression

The journey of pregnancy and having a baby is a joyous and exciting time, where your life changes in numerous yet amazing ways. From that time of finding out that you’re pregnant, to the whole transition during those 9 months, to the moment you hold your baby for the first time, each and every one of those moments is etched into your mind and heart as a fond and intimate memory.

So how can something so beautiful and miraculous, cause some women to feel the extreme opposite of all that is stated above? This post will discuss the two very common forms of depression in women experienced during, and after pregnancy. This is the last post on the depression series. 

Prenatal Depression 

It can begin from the very first trimester. The hormonal changes are slowly intensifying at this time, and it is nearly always a challenging transition for any woman during the first three trimesters. Your emotional state can fluctuate constantly day to day. Physical symptoms such as extreme fatigue and tiredness is also experienced. However, for some women, it goes deeper. The changes are more intense because depression and anxiety forms.

Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression (PPD) usually sets in within the first week or two after giving birth. The symptoms are the same as clinical depression, but it can be confused with the ‘baby blues’. It is normal for a woman to feel overwhelmed and stressed for the first 2 weeks while she adjusts with the new responsibilities and changes of having a baby. However, post partum depression can be diagnosed by assessing the severity and length of her emotional state. If it proceeds over two weeks, then she needs to be seen by her doctor or midwife for postpartum depression.  

Although the exact cause of PPD is unknown, it can stem from a number of reasons ranging from the individuals lifestyle, health, financial situations, or a previous history, or family history of depression and mental illness.

The Symptoms of Prenatal and Postpartum Depression:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless and tearful.
  • Always being exhausted and lacking energy. 
  • Finding it hard to focus or concentrate, and finding it difficult to remember simple things.
  • Feeling alone yet not wanting to be around people.
  • A lack of appetite or an increased appetite.
  • Difficulty sleeping, or waking up early. The opposite is also common – oversleeping and not having the energy or desire to get up.
  • A constant sense of restlessness, agitatation and anxiety.
  • You begin to perceive yourself as worthless and you lose your self confidence.
  • Feelings of guilt.  
  • Not enjoying hobbies or interests anymore. 
  • No feeling of enjoyment or bonding  when you’re spending time with your baby.

Many of these symptoms often feel both overwhelming and confusing, as your hormones are also messing with you, which is influencing your emotions and mental state anyway. Many women don’t actually realise that they are experiencing depression because they simply blame it on hormones, or the general stress of having a baby. They try to ignore it and ‘cope’ thinking these feelings are normal and will pass. It is completely understandable to fall victim to this confusion, but at the same time – you know yourself. If you feel that something is amiss, that this doesn’t feel right, then listen to your intuition. Especially if these feelings and symptoms go on for longer than two weeks. It is also important to note that you may or may not experience all of these symptoms, but again this is where your intuition or ‘gut feeling’ comes in. Experiencing more than two of the symptoms in the list should be sufficient for you to get checked out by your doctor. 
Speaking to your doctor or your midwife is crucial and believe me, they encounter so many women in this situation, so there is no reason to feel embarrassed reaching out for help. Many women feel guilty and distressed for reaching out for help as they think that they should be happy at this time. This is also due to the fact that people expect them to be owning that ‘pregnancy glow’ and to be feeling nothing but happiness. It is an expectation that is fed to the world by the ‘happy mums’ you see on the media constantly. Almost a glitterati of pregnancy you could say.  Just like with every mental illness, this too carries a stigma with it. And just like how I’ve always stressed, it is a stigma that needs to be broken and ended

What Are The Causes?

An exact cause is unknown. However, many factors can bring about it. These factors can range from:

  • A recent traumatic event (such as a bereavement, divorce, or being a victim of abuse).
  • Not receiving sufficient help and support. Or not being able to see loved ones and friends.
  • An unplanned pregnancy.
  • A family history of depression.
  • Having depression in the past (therefore this being a relapse).
  • Being in a difficult situation (e.g: financial instabilities or a volatile relationship).
  • Present personality traits and characteristics such as low self esteem or being excessively self critical. 

It is crucial to state any of these points that apply to you to your doctor or midwife, so that they can give you the treatment plan best suited for you. If you find it difficult to verbalise your emotions, then it is completely fine to write it all down and give that note to your midwife or doctor instead. Or you could even take a loved one with you if that makes you feel more comfortable.

What Kind of Help Can I Receive?

Your doctor or midwife can offer different forms of therapy according to your situation. Some therapies include: CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), counselling and group therapy. They can also offer medication such as antidepressants which will be suited for your pregnancy. 

Depression during pregnancy is more common then people think. Approximately 7-20% women are diagnosed with it. It is vital for your own wellbeing and the wellbeing of your child, to reach out and get the help that you need. 


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