Depression During Pregnancy - It's Real. And It's Treatable.
Hey you - strap on your seat belt, this post is about to get deep.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been warned about postpartum depression starting way before I was even trying to conceive. Maybe it’s the public health bubble that I'm in, or maybe postpartum depression really is getting the awareness it deserves.
Expecting blues after baby made his debut, I was bamboozled by what really went down.
Apparently, this wild ride of hormonal fluctuations affects us all differently. For some (albeit not many ;) pregnancy is bliss. For some, depression never enters the scene, during or post matrescence. Woo hoo for you!
For me, pregnancy hits hard. I’m tired. Things that typically energize me, like tickles with my toddler and ladies night, don’t pick me up the way they used to. I’m WAY more irritable with my hubby. Everything just feels harder.
This happened during my first pregnancy, but amnesia is powerful, and it has taken me by surprise… again.
I attribute the surprise to the fact that I don’t hear other women talking about depression during pregnancy.
More and more, depression during pregnancy is getting recognition, and I want to jump on the train of sharing my experience so other mamas don’t have to feel alone in their overwhelming emotions.
What you need to know
Depression does not always look the way you think it will.
Depression is kind of like a dress that fits every body shape differently. It definitely does not necessarily manifest as crying all day or not being able to get out of bed. It can look more like anxiety, inability to focus, grumpiness or a general lack of gusto for life. All of these feelings are normal on occasion - it’s about catching them before they dominate your life.
beware of Comparison.
When going through something as life-altering as pregnancy, it’s natural to compare your experience to that of the ladies around you. You’re trying to get a barometer for what’s “normal”. If your sister gained 50 lbs, you feel a little better about your own weight gain. You bond with your girlfriend over craving pickles dipped in peanut butter. You laugh with your co-worker about what a joke it is to sleep while a tiny human is having a disco dance party in your belly at 2 a.m.
Shared experiences bring us together.
The issue is when you use comparisons as evidence that you don’t measure up.
Just because your bestie has boundless energy throughout all 3 trimesters does not mean you “should” too. Just because your cousin lost weight during the first tri doesn’t mean something’s wrong with you that you gained 10 lbs by 10 weeks gestation. Recognizing how many women struggle to get pregnancy doesn’t mean you should feel guilty for not floating on a cloud of gratitude for 40 weeks.
More often than not, comparison makes you feel bad about yourself .
Take home: What you’re experiencing is exactly as it should be. Trust and honor your experience as perfect for you.
There are a lot of ways to prevent & treat depression during pregnancy.
You won’t be surprised to read the words to follow - talk to a professional! No need to feel ashamed or alone. Whatever you’re going through, they’ve heard it before. Yes, you should also talk to your mom, your cousin and your friends - that social network is amazing, and does not replace a trained professional with an arsenal of tools to support you.
Now that we got the ‘talk to your people and a professional’ disclaimer out of the way, here are my top tips from a nutrition and lifestyle perspective to make depression during pregnancy more manageable.
Top tips for dealing with depression during pregnancy
As someone who complains way too much about being tired, I totally get how hard it is to conjure up the energy to exercise. Your body says, ‘sleep!’ and ‘eat!’ and you have to respond, “yes, but first I move”.
As hard as it is to get going, once you do it, those exercise endorphins are where its at. Those endorphins are the ultimate mood-lifter. And, in the big picture, regular exercise is the best way to keep your overall energy up.
It really does not matter what type of exercise you do - the most important thing is that you get your heart rate up, you break a sweat, and you feel good afterwards.
then rest it.
Just as important as exercise, is rest. Your body is making another human - from scratch! It’s exhausting.
Your spirit needs to get a sweat-on, but then it needs permission to go a little slower, do a little less and sleep a lot more.
Figuring out your perfect balance of go vs rest is the ultimate self-care.
Your body will tell you what it needs - the hard part listening. It’s hard to turn off the voices in your head demanding you do more, but you got this. You know that slowing down is what you need to prevent the overwhelm, so curl up and take a cat-nap. You deserve it.
This would not be an Alavita post without a shout-out to the power of real food.
There are two micronutrients in particular that most women in the U.S. are low-in, and are strongly linked to depressive symptoms; vitamin D and omega-3 Fatty acids.
While I recommend vitamin-D and omega-3 (DHA + EPA) supplements to almost every woman I work with, the best source of these nutrients is salmon. Low in mercury, 3-4 oz of salmon 2-3 times a week can provide you with enough DHA and EPA to prevent depression while supporting your baby’s brain development. One serving of salmon can also meet your daily vitamin D needs (if you’re not too depleted to begin with).
Balance your blood sugar
It’s not just hormones jumping up and down during pregnancy, it’s also your blood sugar levels. Your cells naturally become more resistant to the hormone insulin, with the specific purpose of increasing the amount of blood sugar available to fuel baby-to-be. The issue is that this makes blood sugar control more challenging and extreme downs in blood sugar levels are closely linked to depression.
This is often made worse during the first trimester when you can’t keep anything down but white carbs - as if the nausea isn’t depressing enough! (See natural remedies for nausea.)
Check out our Pregnancy Program for in depth understanding of how to balance your blood sugar, and thus your mood. For now, just remember to include proteins and/or healthy fats every time you eat. Proteins and fats slow down digestion and prevent rapid spikes and falls in blood sugar levels. This means, if you’re eating an apple, put some peanut butter on it.
Pay attention to gut health
The gut-brain connection is real. There is a ton of emerging researching showing how strongly linked your gut health is to your mental well-being. This is knowledge we’ve had intuitively for millennia - hence the expressions “butterflies in my stomach” when nervous, or that terrible thing makes me “sick in the stomach”.
Consider integrative medicine approaches.
Get body-work done, like acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments and massage. These physical treatments feel amazing, they relax your nervous system, they help prepare your body labor and, back to the beginning, they feels amazing! There’s no shame in prioritizing pleasure ;)
There also happens to be research showing how yoga and massage during pregnancy (just 20 minutes, twice per week) can reduce prenatal depression and improve postpartum mama-baby bonding.
If we haven’t said it enough, we’ll say it again, your self-care is important!
shake off the shame. some of us need anti-depressants.
Last, but not least, a healthy baby needs a happy mama.
If you try all the natural, lifestyle approaches and you’re still struggling, there’s no shame in taking care of your mental health with therapy and/or anti-depressants. In fact, there’s substantial evidence that severe depression during pregnancy can pose a greater risk to your baby-to-be than many of the well-researched anti-depressants.
I have had to take anti-depressants and do regular therapy during both pregnancies. While this is not the solution for everyone, for me, it has allowed me to enjoy motherhood… and give my baby a happy mama. And, I want to role model for my sons a woman who takes care of herself… so working on that.
You were made for this!
There’s power in sharing! Tell us about your experiences and tips for dealing with pregnancy and/or postpartum depression in the comments box below.