Prenatal depression is a part of perinatal depression that occurs during pregnancy. While prenatal depression is often used to describe mild to severe depression in pregnant women, it can also be experienced by expectant fathers. It can be caused by life circumstances, a chemical imbalance, or both and includes many of the common symptoms of depression including anxiety and unexplained sadness. Those suffering from depression often have a difficult time taking care of themselves; this can also result in several health issues for the developing fetus. As with most forms of depression, treatment is usually a combination of therapy and antidepressants.
Researchers estimate that up to 20% of pregnant women and 10% of expectant fathers experience some form of depression usually beginning in the first trimester. The most common causes are marital problems or lack of emotional or financial support from the partner. Studies have also found that young expectant parents and parents with several other children are particularly at increased risk for prenatal depression. Those who are already prone to depression or depressive episodes, especially women who suffer from premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) are the most likely to experience signs of prenatal depression.
The most common symptoms of depression during pregnancy are excessive crying, tiredness, anxiety, and lack of appetite. While these are signs of depression during pregnancy, they can also be simply symptoms of pregnancy itself, especially with regard to fatigue and changes in eating habits. Another symptom of prenatal depression is issues with bonding with the growing baby. This lack of feeling towards the baby, which can be common in both men and women who are not depressed, can also be a cause of depression during pregnancy. An inability to feel loving or nurturing feelings towards a child while in utero can often leave both men and women with feelings of guilt; this can be a normal experience and not indicative of a larger mental health problem, however.
While pregnancy depression can have negative health effects on both men and women, it is most dangerous for the fetus. Depression can often lead a woman to have a difficulties taking care of herself, i.e., eating right, getting proper prenatal care, or abstaining from substance abuse. All of these things can have a direct effect on the health and development of the fetus, thus making treating prenatal depression of utmost importance. Women who suffer from this type of depression are also at a greater risk of developing postpartum depression (PPD) and are often closely monitored after giving birth for signs of this type of perinatal issue.
Prenatal depression can be treated with talk therapy, medication, or a combination of both. While simply conversing with someone can often help both men and women deal with mild to moderate depression during pregnancy, medication may be needed in more severe cases. Recent studies have found that there are several drugs available that are safe for pregnant women to take.