The nine months of pregnancy mark significant changes to your body. And while you are understandably focused on the physical side of pregnancy, it’s also important to take good care of your mental health.
Anxiety, depression and other mental health issues can affect anyone—at any point in their lives. “We’ve seen an increase in mental health challenges in the past several years, with up to 50% of adults experiencing anxiety or depression,” says Sara Gilbertson, CNM, a certified nurse midwife at Henry Ford Health.
The increases are just as pronounced among pregnant individuals. “Mental disorders are the number one comorbidity of pregnancy,” says Gilbertson. “We see more pregnant people struggling with mental health than with gestational diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity.”
If you are pregnant and experiencing any new or worsening mental health symptoms, you are not alone. And there are lots of ways to get help.
How Mental Health Affects Your Pregnancy
For some people, the physical changes of pregnancy make it difficult to feel like themselves. Your body is constantly changing shape and hormonal fluctuations mess with your moods and energy levels. If depression or anxiety is also getting the better of you, everyday life can feel like too much to handle.
Your mental health while pregnant affects not only you, but also your partner, other family members and even your unborn child. “Untreated maternal mental health issues are associated with low-birthweight babies, increased risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and pre-term delivery,” says Gilbertson. “After birth, mental health issues can interfere with breastfeeding and bonding with your child.”
When To Seek Help
During the nine months of pregnancy, you typically see medical providers more frequently than normal. “The good thing is that you have many more opportunities to discuss your mental health and ask for help,” says Gilbertson. It’s also standard practice for many prenatal providers to screen patients for mental health issues during routine visits.
Symptoms that you should take note of include:
- Feelings of depression
- Changes in eating (not related to pregnancy symptoms)
- Loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy
“If you don’t feel like yourself, your ability to cope is lacking or you’re struggling to do things you normally do, reach out for help,” says Gilbertson. “Don’t write it off as just hormones or as a normal part of pregnancy.”
Support For Maternal Mental Health
There are many changes you can make to help improve your mental health during pregnancy. Eating healthfully, getting adequate sleep, exercising and getting social support from friends and family are all important to your mental well-being.
If that’s not enough, your prenatal care provider can direct you to a licensed therapist who specializes in treating maternal mental health. “It’s okay to admit you’re struggling and need help,” says Gilbertson. For those who need extra support for mental health symptoms, Gilbertson notes that there are antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications that are safe to take while pregnant.
Other resources available to parents and family members both pre- and postpartum, include:
- Postpartum Support International provides a variety of online resources for families during and after pregnancy, including virtual support groups led by trained professionals.
- The National Maternal Mental Health Helpline is staffed by professionals offering free and confidential support 24/7. Call 1-833-943-5746.
Reviewed by Sara Gilbertson, a certified nurse midwife who sees patients at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.