understanding depression and anxiety during pregnancy

If you've been feeling low during your pregnancy, you're not alone. Around 20% of women suffer from depression and anxiety while getting ready to welcome a baby. Help is available, but recognising your symptoms can be the toughest step.

what are the signs of depression during pregnancy?

Depression can mean feeling down for weeks (or even months) on end. You might also feel like you can't be bothered with anything. It can be tricky to concentrate or make decisions. Although you feel exhausted, if you're depressed you might struggle to sleep, and wake up really early. Feeling worthless, guilty and irritable are all symptoms, too. You might want to be alone all the time, and may even have thoughts of suicide. Basically, you'll feel a bit like life just isn't enjoyable anymore.

what are the signs of anxiety during pregnancy?

Everyone worries during pregnancy, but anxiety takes things a step further. You might feel nervous and edgy all the time, and find it difficult to stop your thoughts from going to dark places. If you're anxious you might find it impossible to relax, and feel a bit annoyed at the people around you. There are some physical symptoms too, like a racing heartbeat, dizziness, sweating a lot more than usual, trembling muscles and numbness in your fingers, toes and lips. These can come on together suddenly as a panic attack.

what treatments are available for antenatal depression and anxiety?

Speak to your midwife or GP and tell them how you're feeling. Try to be open and honest. They'll be able to tell you about all the different treatments on offer. They'll probably offer you cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) instead of medication, as drugs could potentially affect your baby. CBT involves talking through your feelings with a trained counsellor. It's a judgement-free zone, so you can scream, shout and say things you might not want to in front of friends or family. Your therapist should be able to talk you through what you're feeling.

what happens if CBT doesn't work for me?

Go back to your doctor. There's no evidence to prove whether or not anti-depressants are safe during pregnancy, but in really severe cases your doctor will prescribe you some. Remember that your GP is a health professional and they'll have weighed up the pros and cons before suggesting it. They should talk them through with you, too. It's just as risky for you and baby if your depression and anxiety are going untreated. If you're going to try any herbal supplements, you should tell your doctor first. Some (like St John's wort) aren't safe to take during pregnancy.

is there anything i can do to combat depression and anxiety myself?

It's best to get some professional help too, but in the meantime there are a few things you can try:

  • exercise regularly and eat well – staying active will release endorphins, and the right foods will help keep your energy levels up
  • ask for help – get friends and family to take some of the pressure off you by helping out with household chores and grocery shopping
  • remember you are not alone – many mums-to-be and new mums feel low and depressed at some stage before or after the birth; visit or and you will soon find a thread of online conversation about depression and anxiety with lots of helpful tips and advice
  • above all do speak out – don’t be scared to tell your partner, midwife or best friend how you’re feeling, don’t suffer in silence
  • the sooner you get help, the sooner you will start to feel better