prenatal depression

Prenatal depression – symptoms and support

If you are pregnant and feeling depressed, it’s important to know that you are not alone.

Prenatal depression

Pregnancy is a time of enormous change. During this phase of life there are physical, emotional, relationship and role changes in particular. So, it is important to consider this when we think about the things that contribute to the risk of any mood problem, but particularly when we look at depression around pregnancy. We hear a lot about postnatal depression these days, but it’s also very important to talk about prenatal depression (depression during pregnancy), which actually occurs at the same rate as postnatal (depression after the baby is born).

Research studies have indicated that up to 23% of women experience prenatal depression. Psychology research has looked at the prevalence of depression by trimester, and rates of 7.4%, 12.8% and 12.0% in the first, second, and third trimesters respectively, have been found. Depression can negatively impact the baby as well as the mum, which makes diagnosis and treatment twice as important.

Prenatal depression – Symptoms

The symptoms of prenatal depression during pregnancy are very similar to the symptoms that are seen in a depressive disorder at any other time of life (and in any gender), so it can be difficult to tease out what the symptoms of depression are from the normal physical, mental and emotional changes that can occur during pregnancy.

However, symptoms to watch out for include: changes in sleep patterns, appetite, energy, mood, capacity to cope with stress, speed of thinking, changes in a sense of connection to people or roles, and daily thoughts that are more negative, fearful or guilty. Often, those around the pregnant woman may notice that she is not her usual self and observe other changes in how she is thinking, feeling, or behaving.

prenatal depression

“But couldn’t pregnancy hormones be causing these changes?” I hear you ask. Yes and no; depression is a more likely possibility than the normal changes that can be brought on by pregnancy. If the symptoms persist and are getting worse – for example, if the emotions and thinking are becoming increasingly negative, the experience is not typical for the woman and if she can’t see any value or pleasure in her everyday life, the possibility of prenatal depression should be considered.

Who is at risk?

Depression is a very common condition with a broad set of symptoms and a multitude of different causes. Research indicates that pregnancy hormones may cause prenatal depression, but we also know that there are other factors, which increase the likelihood of experiencing prenatal depression.

This ‘higher risk’ category includes women who have a family history of depression or anxiety, have personally experienced depression or depressive episodes in the past, those with increased sensitivity to mood change with hormonal change (for example PMS), women who have high-levels of life stress, women with a lack of support and those who experience physical pain and complications during their pregnancies.

Other risk factors for prenatal depression include being a younger mum, having an unplanned pregnancy and encountering relationship difficulties (or other stressful events) during pregnancy.


Self-care is often a low priority for women who are depressed and pregnant, they may lose their appetite meaning their nutritional balance is not ideal. They may not be sleeping, and unfortunately many depressed mums-to-be try to self-treat with over-the-counter medications and herbal treatments, which can be dangerous for both mum and baby

Scientific research has linked maternal life events, anxiety, and depression with complications for both mother and infant. Pregnant women who experience increased anxiety levels and prenatal depression are at higher risk for excessive vomiting and nausea during pregnancy (Hyperemesis Gravidarum), delivery complications, postnatal depression and other postnatal psychiatric illnesses. Depression during pregnancy also increases the risk for pre-term labour and low-birth weight.

More like this:

Pregnancy and eating disorders
When it’s not just ups and downs
Look after your mental health


Q. I’m would like to start an exercise programme that will benefit my emotional health as much as my physical health, but I don’t know which type of class would be best. Should I consider choosing from yoga, pilates, tai chi, or could you recommend a class, please?

A It’s great that you have decided to get into exercise. The benefits to you are going to be great. You’ll sleep better, have more energy, better skin, reduced stressed, not to mention all the amazing physical benefits of your clothes fitting better, and looking healthy, trim and toned! My advice to you would be to try them all. Even if some don’t offer pay-as-you-go sessions, if you get in touch directly with the instructor, they will almost always let you try it out first to see if it’s for you. All of the above things that you mentioned are great for mental health, so it really will be a personal preference as to which you go for. On top of the classes you mention, all forms of exercise will give you great mental rewards so consider the not so obvious interval training sessions, bootcamp, and circuits too, as you will also feel on top of the world after a class like that.



Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….