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Depression and pregnancy

4-minute read

Pregnancy can be an emotional time — you might feel excited and elated one moment, and stressed and unsure the next. As your body goes through physical changes, it's common to experience ups and downs in your mood and feelings. However, if you have ongoing low mood that gets in the way of daily life, you may be developing antenatal depression.

What are the signs of antenatal depression?

The signs of depression during pregnancy are the same as at any other time in life. However, it can be harder to recognise the signs when you're pregnant because some of the challenges of becoming a parent (such as changing sleep patterns or a change in appetite) can overlap with depression.

Look for help if you've been experiencing several of the following for 2 weeks or more:

  • feeling low, numb or 'feeling nothing at all'
  • feeling helpless, hopeless or worthless
  • feeling teary and emotional, angry or resentful towards others
  • experiencing unexpected changes in sleep or appetite
  • having lack of interest or lacking energy to do things
  • having thoughts of harming yourself, your baby or other children

While depression can affect any pregnant mum, it may be more likely if you've experienced difficult life events, have a history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, or experienced pregnancy or childbirth-related trauma before. A previous history of depression or other mental health conditions (such as bipolar disorder or psychosis) may also put you at higher risk of antenatal depression.

If you develop depression during pregnancy, it's likely to persist for a while after your baby is born — so it's a good idea to get help now.

What's the difference between antenatal depression and other conditions?

You might hear the terms antenatal, postnatal and perinatal depression and wonder what the difference is between them. Antenatal depression refers to depression that starts during pregnancy, while postnatal depression develops between 1 month to a year after birth.

As depression can occur anytime around pregnancy, you may also hear the term perinatal depression used to describe depression that happens before, during or after pregnancy and childbirth.

Depression and anxiety in pregnancy

Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand; up to half of people experience symptoms of both at the same time. Women who experience depression or anxiety during pregnancy are also more likely to have postnatal depression.

It's common for pregnant women to worry about their baby's health, what the birth experience will be like, and many have concerns about weight gain or body shape. While as many as 3 out of 10 women experience some level of anxiety during pregnancy, some may have more severe symptoms that need extra support. Seek help if you experience the following:

  • stress or feeling on edge much of the time
  • muscle tension
  • difficulty staying calm
  • recurring worrying thoughts
  • feelings of panic or helplessness

Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale

The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale is a simple checklist that asks about your mental health. It can indicate whether you’re experiencing symptoms that are common with depression and anxiety, and help you recognise when you need to seek support.

Find out more about the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale from Beyond Blue.

Treating pregnancy depression

Remember that antenatal depression is temporary and treatable. If you're experiencing mild to moderate depression, emotional and practical support from loved ones can help you manage.

If you need further help, there are effective psychological and/or medical treatments available.

Two types of psychological therapy have been proven to be very effective in managing depression:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy helps you to identify negative thoughts about pregnancy and being a parent, and to challenge them to learn how you can approach your thinking in a different way.
  • Interpersonal therapy helps you to resolve past losses, changes or conflicts that may be contributing to antenatal depression.

In some cases, your doctor may suggest antidepressants. These are medicines that help manage symptoms of perinatal depression so you can put more energy and thought into recovery and getting back to yourself. Two common types of antidepressants that are used in pregnancy are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs).

Remember to check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medicine (prescribed or over-the-counter) while you are pregnant or breastfeeding and ask if they are safe for you and your baby.

Help and support

If you or someone you know is showing signs of perinatal depression, contact any of the following organisations for help:

Need to talk to someone?

The Pregnancy, Birth and Baby helpline offers free non-judgmental emotional support during pregnancy and parenting for when you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed.

Call us on 1800 882 436 or video call 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2020

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Read more on Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) website

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Read more on COPE - Centre of Perinatal Excellence website

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