Ante-natal depression: your questions answered

Dr Sebastian Winckler from DrEd gives some advice and information about ante-natal depression.

Antenatal depression has been in the news again recently. A survey by the Royal College of Midwives and Netmums showed:

– 38% of women with antenatal depression had suicidal thoughts

– 80% went on to have postnatal depression

– 50% said it affected their relationship with their baby

– Only 22% of women with antenatal depression sought help from their GP

Experts say that more support for mums is needed urgently. We asked Dr Sebastian Winckler from DrEd some questions about antenatal depression:

What exactly is antenatal depression?

Antenatal depression is simply depression that occurs during pregnancy. It’s far less talked about than postnatal depression, but it’s actually more common.

Why does it happen during pregnancy?

Lots of reasons!

– Pregnancy is a major life-changing event for any woman and this change can cause stress and worry

– If you’re a first-time mum, you may be struggling with anxieties over how well you’re going to bond with your baby, or how you’re going to cope with motherhood in general

– If you’re already a mum, or you’re trying to focus on your career; you may worry about the additional demands placed on you

– Money worries and its effect on your relationship with your partner may also start

– Pregnancy is also associated with the release of certain hormones that are associated with depression.

How can I tell if I have it?

The thing about antenatal depression is that so many of its tell-tale signs are also associated with the natural hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy.

In general you should be looking out for prolonged:

– Feelings of gloom and isolation

– Fatigue or loss of energy

– Severe anxiety or irritability

– Loss of appetite

– Withdrawal from social situations or activities you once enjoyed

– Thoughts of self-harm

Will it happen to me?

Anyone can succumb to depression for reasons that are unique and personal to them. In general, you’re statistically more likely to suffer antenatal depression if:

– You have a history of mood or anxiety disorders

– You have a personal or family history of postnatal or antenatal depression

– You suffered childhood or domestic abuse

– You have a low income or poor social support

– It’s an unplanned pregnancy or you are a single mother

– You have a large number of existing children

– You’re a young mother.

How serious is it?

Of course it depends on the individual and situation in question, but if the depression is caught early and the mother supported, there’s no reason why it should be problematic or detrimental to either mother or baby.

Should I take antidepressants?

It completely depends. As a general rule I would say to avoid prescription anti-depressants, unless your depression is particularly severe. However, if you were already taking them, please don’t come off them. Discuss the continuation or termination of the medication with your doctor.

Should I see my GP?

Yes, if you feel like you’re unable to cope and think you would benefit from seeing your GP.

How do I deal with my depression?

Communicate. Many women end up suffering needlessly because they keep their antenatal depression bottled up, embarrassed about feeling anything other than the eternal bliss of pregnancy. Talk to your partner, your friends and your family.

Tell your doctor, nurse or midwife how you’re feeling when you go for your next check-up. Only 27% of mums report being asked how they’re coping with their pregnancy emotionally. Talking to a midwife can help put your feelings into perspective or eradicate worries.

If you want to talk to someone who really understands your situation, there are plenty of internet forums and support groups out there.

Remember that antenatal depression is still depression at the end of the day, so many of the traditional coping mechanisms will transfer over. Things like: gentle exercise, hobbies and positive thinking.

What if it impacts my work? Do I have to tell my employer?

You are certainly not obligated to tell your employer about any antenatal depression you may be feeling. National guidelines state that you do not need to tell your employer anything more than ‘you are sick’ if you need to take time off work.

Should I take time off work?

Again, it depends. If you feel like work is putting you under too much pressure then you’ll probably benefit from taking a couple of days off to relax. However, if you’re suffering from depression the last thing you need is extended periods of time alone with just your own thoughts. It’s important to strike the right balance.

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