Fatigue, weight gain, nausea and swollen ankles are just a few normal symptoms of pregnancy. Pervasive sadness, anxiety and loss of interest in things are not part of a normal pregnancy. These symptoms may be signs of clinical depression.
Depression during pregnancy is fairly common, as about 13 percent of women experience depression during pregnancy or after delivery. Feeling depressed can have a negative effect on the baby when the mother doesn’t take care of herself properly or self-medicates with drugs or alcohol. Circulating stress hormones have also been shown to cause premature labor. But is it a good idea to use anti-depressants while pregnant?
Medication may not be the best way to manage depression during pregnancy. A new study suggests that taking antidepressant medications during pregnancy may not be perfectly safe after all. The study compared birth weight and gestational age between children whose mothers took selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) during pregnancy with those who did not.
SSRI exposure during two or more trimesters was associated with lower birth weight by about 205 grams and a shorter gestational period of about five days. It is important to note, however, that a significant number of the women who took SSRIs during pregnancy also smoked and drank alcohol, were single and had less education than those who did not. Smoking and drinking alcohol can cause low birth weight and prematurity, so these results should be interpreted with caution.
Another study published in December 2015 showed that, although infants whose mothers took SSRIs during pregnancy were not more likely to be born premature, they were born sicker, and with a higher risk for cesarean section, breathing problems and the need for neonatal intensive care. A third study found a higher rate of autism in children whose mothers took SSRIs during their second and/or third trimester of pregnancy than in children whose mothers did not.
Self-care helps tremendously
For those who decide not to take medication during their pregnancy, other steps can be taken to combat depression. For example, all recreational drugs and alcohol use should be discontinued immediately. Also, pregnancy increases nutritional requirements and the need for sleep. Eating a well-balanced diet and getting enough sleep can greatly improve mood. Exercise is also an important part of a healthy pregnancy, assuming there are no complications that would require restricted activity. Laughing with friends and loved ones also improves symptoms of depression.
Anyone who is unable to stop drinking or using drugs, or is contemplating suicide should seek help immediately. Depressive symptoms that interfere with normal functioning may also require professional treatment. Pregnant women should consult with their health care provider, as easily treatable conditions such as hypothyroidism can mimic depression.
Sovereign Health of Arizona empowers clients to be active participants in their own care and recovery from abuse, substance use and behavioral disorders. Our specialized treatment programs provide each woman support in her recovery using a multi-disciplined team of professionals and many different approaches to treatment. For more information about our peaceful location in Chandler, Arizona, please call our 24/7 helpline.
About the author
Dana Connolly, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer for Sovereign Health, where she translates current research into practical information. She earned her Ph.D. in research and theory development from New York University and has decades of experience in clinical care, medical research and health education. The Sovereign Health Group is a health information resource and Dr. Connolly helps to ensure excellence in our model. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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