Karabo Mokoena
Content producer
2 minute read
9 Jul 2021
9:19 am

How to spot depression during pregnancy

Karabo Mokoena

Postpartum depression is a better known disorder, but pregnant women can also experience depression.

Picture: iStock

Some pregnant women are more likely to suffer from depression due to hormonal changes or social circumstances than others.

Not every woman jumps for joy at the realisation they are pregnant. Issues of poverty, an unwilling father or age can all contribute to a lack of pregnancy joy. When these fuel emotions of hopelessness and losing interest in things, a pregnant woman can become depressed.

This is known as prenatal depression. In a lot of cases, prenatal depression can go undiagnosed because of its shared symptoms with pregnancy.

Pregnancy can mask symptoms of depression

Depression symptoms may look like pregnancy symptoms. These include:

  • Fatigue
  • High or low appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Increase anxiety
  • Low libido

These are both symptoms of depression during pregnancy and normal experiences of pregnant women. For women experiencing these, treatment might not be sought and the depression may go unrecognised, making the woman susceptible to postnatal depression. The collective term for depression during pregnancy and postnatal depression is perinatal depression.

ALSO SEE: Coping with postnatal depression during lockdown

According to Mayo Clinic “if you have untreated depression, you might not seek optimal prenatal care, eat the healthy foods your baby needs or have the energy to care for yourself”.

Diagnosis is, therefore, key.

How to tell if a pregnant woman is depressed?

Although prenatal depression shares some symptoms with pregnancy itself, there are some possible red flags that signal if a pregnant woman is depressed.

Some of the signs that a pregnant woman might be depressed include:

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Increased anxiety about the baby
  • Not adhering to proper prenatal care
  • Poor weight gain
  • Drinking alcohol, smoking or using drugs
  • Not engaging in usually enjoyable activities

Treatment for prenatal depression

Once diagnosed, treatment can provided for those experiencing depression during pregnancy. Your healthcare provider will advise you on this. Treatment can be a combination of medications such as antidepressants or therapy. However, most women shy away from the medication option due to the health risks to the foetus.

Evidence has not yet shown that antidepressants recommended to pregnant women cause harm to a growing foetus. However, there are some risk factors associated with using medication during pregnancy.

Therapy then becomes the choice of treatment, but not every woman has easy access to therapy. This is why diagnosis does not always lead to treatment.

For women who cannot afford psychological support due to finances, there are some free resources that are open to South African mothers. Organisations such as the South African Depression and Anxiety Group dedicate time and resources to offer counseling, even over WhatsApp.

Talk therapy is one of the most useful tools to help with depression during depression and can equally play a significant role to work through the fears and emotions of a depressed and pregnant woman.