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3 Simple Ways to Prevent Depression During Pregnancy

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Pregnant and facing depression? Studies show that depression in pregnancy can have lasting effects on both mother and baby. But not to worry, there are many things you can do to reduce or eliminate your risk of depression both during and after your baby is delivered.

Depression is a condition that affects millions of people each year. Depression can range from feeling slightly sad or “blue” to a chronic problem of feeling like life isn’t worth the effort. Depression can strike anyone at any time, but women are particularly susceptible to feelings of depression during pregnancy. According to data from Web MD, up to 20 percent of women experience some level of depression during pregnancy. There is a myriad of causes for depression, but particularly worrisome are the long-term effects of gestational depression.

Depression During Pregnancy

Depression during pregnancy can be tricky because high hormone changes can lead to an influx of unfamiliar feelings and emotions. In addition to changes in hormones and emotions, pregnant women also cannot take many of the common treatments for depression due to their harmful effects on the baby. Depression during pregnancy can be brought about by stress and leads to an increased chance of the mother facing postpartum depression after the baby is delivered. In addition to potential risks for the mother, there are also risks for the baby.

According to a new study conducted by The University of Bristol in 2013, depression during pregnancy can have multi-generational effects. It is possible for a mother to pass on a propensity for depression to her baby. This study highlights how important proper care and health is during pregnancy, not only for the health of the mother but also for continued health for the baby throughout his or her life.

Signs of Depression

Signs of depression in pregnancy are the same as the signs for any other time in life. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, depression is “official” when you have at least five of the symptoms of depression at once. Symptoms can include:

Common Symptoms of Depression
  • Loss of energy or fatigue every day
  • Indecisiveness or impaired concentration on a frequent basis
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness every day
  • A “blue” mood throughout the day and particularly in the morning
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much)
  • Continual restlessness or a feeling of being held back by life
  • Diminished interest and pleasure in most activities most days
  • Sudden weight gain or weight loss
  • Frequent thoughts of suicide
  • Persistent “empty” or sad feelings

To be considered clinically depressed, these symptoms must continue for over two weeks and must be unrelated to medications or other medical conditions. The National Institute of Mental Health allows for different symptoms in different people. A lot of people with depression experience symptoms in patterns. Depressive symptoms followed by manic symptoms of hyperactivity may be a result of manic depression or bipolar disorder. In some cases, depressive symptoms may be seasonal or occur at a specific time each year, perhaps in response to a traumatic event occurring at that time of year.

The Risks of Gestational Depression

According to research, pregnancy depression can lead to several risks for both mother and baby. A 1999 study from the Duke University Medical Center showed that mothers with signs of depression gave birth to infants that showed higher levels of the stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine at birth. Depressed mothers also showed higher levels of cortisol and norepinephrine.

A 2007 study conducted by Duke University Medical Center indicated that female infants with low birth weight were more likely to show signs of depression as teens. The study looked at 1420 teens of both sexes, of which 49 percent were female. The study showed that 38.1 percent of females with a low birth weight showed depressive symptoms as teenagers.

A 2008 study published in the journal Human Reproduction, found that depression in a mother can lead to preterm birth. In the study of 791 pregnant women, 44 percent showed depressive symptoms. These results were higher than previous reports of how many women are depressed during pregnancy. Researchers thought the increase in percentages were due to the fact that they tracked all women with lowered moods and some depressed symptoms, rather than assigning depression only to women who matched the description for clinical depression. Of the nearly 800 women, women who showed signs of any level of depression were nearly twice as likely to give birth before 37 weeks. A baby born before 37 weeks is considered preterm. Preterm birth is currently the leading cause of infant mortality in the United States today.

A 2013 study conducted by The University of Bristol showed that mothers who were depressed during pregnancy were more likely to pass on a propensity for depression to their children. Children of mothers who were depressed during pregnancy had a 1.3 higher chance of developing their own depressive symptoms before the age of 18.

What Do These Studies Mean?

These studies highlight just how important fighting depression is during pregnancy. Just like many other things that pass from mother to baby during pregnancy, depressive symptoms can as well. Depression negatively impacts the baby in multiple ways, which can cause harm to the baby right at birth and throughout the baby’s lifetime. Luckily, there are many things you can do to fight depression during pregnancy without the risk of harming your baby. Read on to figure out your best strategy for keeping you and your baby safe from depression.

What to do When Facing Gestational Depression

If you are feeling any level of depression during pregnancy, you are not alone. As the above studies showed, around 44 percent of women indicated some depressive symptoms at some point during their pregnancies. If you are feeling overwhelmed and depressed during your pregnancy, it does not mean you are a bad mother or will be a bad mother in the future. Changing hormones, your changing body, the new role you are facing, and a whole host of other emotions and stressful situations are scary during pregnancy. Feelings of fear and anxiety are normal.

If you feel depressed during your pregnancy, there are steps you can take to help improve your mood and give your baby a healthier start. Always put your health first. It is okay if you stop engaging in other activities to focus on the baby. Cut back on work and try to focus on relaxing things.

If you start to feel overwhelmed, don’t hide those feelings. Discuss them with your partner, a family member, a close friend, or your doctor. Therapy can help you determine where your feelings are coming from and the best way to proceed to protect your health and the health of the baby. You can also cut back on your depressive symptoms through natural methods. Many natural methods have been shown to cut down on depressive symptoms without the side effects of antidepressant medication- many of which are unsafe for use during pregnancy and may have unwanted side effects on you or your baby.

Treating Pregnancy Depression Naturally

Natural treatments for depression during pregnancy are the best option for preventing side effects to the baby. According to The Mayo Clinic, although some medications are approved for anti-depression during pregnancy, few have been proven safe without question. Some of the approved medications have been linked to health problems with the babies before or after they are born. Research has shown, however, that natural treatments can be effective in treating most forms of depression during pregnancy.

As with all diet, supplement, and exercise changes; discuss any potential changes that you want to make with your OBGYN before starting a natural program to reduce depression. Even some natural supplements may pose a risk to an unborn baby if taken the wrong way, or in the wrong dosage.

Make Simple Diet Changes

Diet changes can play a large role in the depressive symptoms that you face. A healthy body leads to a healthy mind and a healthy attitude about life. One of the best ways to reduce your depressive symptoms is by eliminating inflammation from your diet. Inflammation leads to a wide range of health problems, depression included. One of the biggest inflaming foods is vegetable oils. The amount of vegetable oil that most Americans consume is much higher than the body was designed to consume. Simply by reducing the amount of vegetable oils that you eat, you can lower your risk of inflammation. Other inflaming foods include gluten, MSG, chemically-altered foods (including sugar substitutes), and trans fats.

Instead, try adding nutrient-dense foods to your diet. Nutrient-dense foods improve brain function, improve the overall health of the body, and help your baby grow properly. Pregnant women should add plenty of the following foods to their diet:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables: Everyone knows fresh fruits and vegetables are healthy, yet many Americans still are woefully lacking in these nutrient-dense foods. A pregnant woman should be focusing on adding nutrient-dense produce to the diet: including blueberries, dark leafy greens, avocado, walnuts, beets, garlic, buckwheat, chickpeas, and cherries. 
  • Healthy fats: Your body requires more fats during pregnancy than at other times in life. However, the right fats are important for keeping depression symptoms at bay. Healthy fats that improve brain function include butterfat, coconut oil, dairy products, and eggs. Don’t be afraid of fat during pregnancy. The right fats contain ingredients that help you assimilate nutrients and help your baby grow strong.
  • Dairy products: Dairy fats contain one of the most absorbable forms of serotonin that comes from outside sources. Dairy products also contain vitamin B6, which helps prevent feelings of nausea during pregnancy, according to a study conducted by the University of Iowa College of Medicine in 1991.

Take Brain-Boosting Supplements

Many pregnant women are unable to eat as healthfully as they would like, particularly during the first trimester. Fish are one of the best foods for pregnant women to eat to fight depression, but concerns of mercury levels makes consuming fish questionable during pregnancy. Luckily, many important vitamins and minerals that can fight depression during pregnancy and keep a baby growing strong are available in supplement form. Add the following supplements to your diet while pregnant to reduce depressive symptoms:

  • Omega-3s: Fish oil is one of the best supplements to take during pregnancy or at any time. Omega-3 fights depression and boosts brainpower, memory, and a host of other important functions. 
  • Folate: Folate helps keep the brain healthy and also fights depression. Folate is a purer form of the vitamin than folic acid, although you can take folic acid if true folate is not available. 
  • St. John’s Wort: St John’s wort is the leading prescribed treatment for depression in the world. It is safe to use during pregnancy, but it can interfere with other medications, so be sure to discuss the use of the herb with your doctor or midwife. 
  • Magnesium: Magnesium boosts brainpower and fights depression. Psychology Today calls magnesium “the original chill pill.” It has been used as a treatment for depression at least as far back as 1968.
Supplements for Depression During Pregnancy
  • Omega-3s
  • Folate
  • St. John’s Wort
  • Magnesium

Alter Your Activities

One of the biggest chemicals that fight depressive symptoms is serotonin. Serotonin has been scientifically proven to improve mood and improve healthy brain function. Individuals with high serotonin levels are less likely to show signs of depression. Several studies have shown the link between serotonin and depression, including a 1994 study published in Clinical Chemistry. This study linked reduced serotonin levels with major depression. You can easily boost serotonin levels by changing up your activity level. Activities like moderate exercise for at least 150 minutes a day and getting out in the sun for at least 30 minutes a day will naturally boost your serotonin levels.

Stress is another big factor in depressive symptoms. If you are stressed about the baby, becoming a parent, or anything else, it can result in feelings of depression. Try to cut back on stressors as much as possible. Limit your time in high-stress situations and try to relax as much as possible, even if it is just taking 30 minutes a day to relax in a warm bath or spending time alone.

In some cases, your feelings of depression may be too large to handle with simple diet changes and exercise. If you feel overwhelmed with depression, talking it out is one of the most effective natural treatment methods for depression. The book “Feeling good: The new mood therapy” by David Burns outlines two effective psychotherapy methods- cognitive therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy. Cognitive therapy addresses people’s warped perceptions about their beliefs and addresses ways to manage false beliefs about themselves and the world. Interpersonal therapy is often used to treat depression during pregnancy. It treats women by having them look at the support they receive from the relationships around them and how relationships change after childbirth and pregnancy.

Simple Activities to Prevent Pregnancy Depression
  • Reduce stress
  • Exercise
  • Get some sun
  • Talking it out

Maintaining Mental Health to Protect Mother and Baby

During pregnancy, the health of the mother is of optimal importance. It is clear that the health of the mother can have an impact on the health of the baby long into the baby’s life. Many of the associations between mother and baby are as yet unknown and unstudied. However, it has been proven that the healthier the mother, the healthier the baby. Depressed mothers lead to depressed children.

Fortunately, there are many steps a mother can take to reduce or eliminate her depressive symptoms during pregnancy. Stress reduction, exercise, light, supplements, and a healthy diet will all help a mother feel healthy and happy throughout her pregnancy. Adding these activities, foods, and supplements to your diet is the best way to ensure your baby has the ultimate start in life and is protected from depression throughout his or her future.





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