Motherhood is the most complex phase in a woman’s life. A woman’s physical and mental health is vulnerable at this time so each expectant mother needs attention and empathy during this period.
For most women, pregnancy is a joyful period, but for some, it can be challenging. Various biological as well as psychosocial factors can cause mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, OCD, and postpartum psychosis.
The psychological wellbeing of pregnant women must be considered just as important as their physical health needs, and included in routine antenatal care.
The nine-month duration of pregnancy is known as antenatal period. During this time, women can be prone to depression and anxiety due to various biological or psychosocial factors. However, these mental health problems are frequently undiagnosed and ignored because the symptoms of depression are similar to physiological complaints of pregnancy such as irritability, tiredness, sleep or appetite disturbance.
Some of the risk factors that can cause depression in the antenatal period include:
Poor marital relationship
Unplanned or unwanted pregnancy
Domestic violence (physical, sexual, and emotional)
Family or personal history of depression, bipolar disorder, postpartum psychosis or other serious mental illness
Pre-existing mental illness can be exacerbated during pregnancy such as OCD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Reducing or stopping medication for previously diagnosed mental illness, during pregnancy
Complications experienced in the previous pregnancy or bereavement
Addiction to alcohol, illicit drugs or prescribed drugs
Migrating from a rural area or town to the city, where there is no family or social support
Extreme stress due to work pressure and deadlines
Pregnancy changes – this is normal
This is not normal
Every woman experiences some of these common symptoms during pregnancy, and they are mostly due to hormonal changes.
Nausea/vomiting especially during the first trimester
Mood changes, weepy or emotional
Concerns with body image
Disturbed sleep especially in third trimester
Fatigue, more in first and third trimester
Anxiety, related to impending delivery and wellbeing of baby
These symptoms suggest that a woman is suffering from antenatal depression:
Weight loss or failure to gain weight during pregnancy
Continued reduced appetite even after recovering from ‘morning sickness’
Altered sleep pattern
Agitation or restlessness
Fatigue or loss of energy
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
Anhedonia (no interest or pleasure or enjoyment)
Markedly reduced concentration
Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
If you notice these changes in yourself during pregnancy or in your wife/daughter during pregnancy, seek professional help.
Important: Antenatal depression can be easy to diagnose. If the woman is diagnosed and treated, she may get well before her baby arrives.
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