Spotting the signs of prenatal depression and anxiety

Cath Coleman from Kent Hypnobirthing talks about recognising and managing the symptoms of depression and anxiety during pregnancy.

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It is common for many women to feel difficult emotions during pregnancy. After all, expecting a baby can be exciting, stressful, joyful or scary, and it is perfectly normal to experience a roller-coaster of emotions. 

But prenatal depression and anxiety are more serious and you may need extra support.

Prenatal depression

Prenatal depression can be caused by the changes in your hormones during your pregnancy. But it can also be caused by many other things, such as feeling stressed and overwhelmed about becoming a mother, relationship or financial problems, your feelings about your changing body, or previous difficult pregnancies. 

Symptoms of prenatal depression

  • Low mood
  • Lack of energy
  • Tearfulness
  • Loss of interest in things you normally enjoy
  • Hopelessness
  • Isolating yourself
  • Feelings of guilt

Prenatal anxiety

It is common to have feelings of anxiety when you are pregnant. Many women worry about their baby, the birth, or how their lives will change after their baby is born. But if you find your worrying excessively, or if your anxiety is becoming overwhelming, you may have prenatal anxiety.

Symptoms of prenatal anxiety

  • Feeling anxious, worrying or panicky most of the time
  • Racing or intrusive thoughts
  • Unable to sleep or relax
  • A racing heart or faster breathing
  • Sweating and hot flashes
  • Feeling shaky or having pins and needles
  • Dizzy or light-headed
  • A sense of dread and thinking the worst is going to happen

Self-help ideas for prenatal depression or anxiety

If you think you or someone you know might have depression or anxiety, it is important you see your GP or midwife. They can help by referring you to a mental health professional and may offer you talking therapies, such as counselling.

There are some ways you can manage mild depression and anxiety yourself. 

  • Make sure you connect with friends and family, talk to other people and don’t isolate yourself. 
  • Take care of your physical health – eat well, get enough sleep and stay active
  • Keep a journal to write down your thoughts and feelings
  • Relax – just 20 minutes a day is enough to help anxious thoughts and boost your mood. Try reading a book, going for a walk or having a long bath
  • Practise self-care – do what you enjoy and make time for yourself
  • Have a resilience toolkit – write a list of people, places or activities that life your mood. This could be anything – a movie you love, somewhere you love to walk or cuddling with your dog. Then when you feel low or anxious, look at your list and do one of those things.

Cath Coleman teaches hypnobirthing courses in Canterbury with Kent Hypnobirthing. Having worked as a mental health nurse for 17 years, she is experienced in supporting women with anxiety and depression during pregnancy.

Honesty in Motherhood

Emma Rosen, writer, mother, singer and breastfeeding advocate. shares her views about the realities of becoming a parent and why honesty in motherhood is so important. 

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Hands up if you’ve heard phrases like, ‘You’ll forget it all soon enough,’ ‘At least you got a healthy baby,’ ‘You’ll miss these years – the best of your life.’ Did it make you want to kick those people in the shins for brushing you aside?

People do have a tendency to rose-tint parenthood.

The wonderful little bundle, the hours gazing at them, the fulfilment of raising this little human… These things are of course true – I’m not trying to say that parenthood is a constant thankless slog – but it’s important to remember the other side: the difficulty of growing and birthing a tiny human, the mum guilt, the ‘so tired I might die’, or the isolation. None of these things make parenthood bad – rather, they make it real. Human relationships aren’t easy, they’re complex. I’m sure every one of you could tell me the most annoying things about the person you love most or the hard things about a job you love. Everything is multi-layered.

It’s normal to want to put a positive spin on experiences; the issue is that when we sugarcoat our experiences we influence the expectation of others. If pregnancy or parenthood are set up as perfect and beautiful, when our personal experiences are different we feel cheated, or worse, responsible. That doesn’t mean we should be spreading horror stories either, we just need to be honest.

Humans communicate and learn through social stories.

If we were in hunter-gatherer communities we’d be sitting round the fire sharing tales, but we don’t do that any more. We are increasingly isolated and living in filtered online communities. The implications of this are that our personal interactions become so much more important in establishing what constitutes an ordinary experience.

I wrote my book Milk as an honest story of my pregnancies, birth and breastfeeding. It’s a complex story with cultural, social and historical context. My experience was good, bad and every shade in between. I wanted make sure my telling of it was honest in order to help other parents feel less alone or for birth workers to have more empathy. My story is my own and of course everyone’s experience is different. Whilst not everyone is going to write a book about their experiences, you will most likely be talking about them in some form. Be real – we owe each other the benefits of our shared stories.

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Emma Rosen loves all things breastfeeding and volunteers as a peer supporter at a local breastfeeding support group. When she’s not writing or chasing her children, Emma makes YouTube videos, stares at the sea and sings in a band.