Depression during pregnancy

Causes of depression during pregnancy:

The causes of depression in pregnancy (also known as antenatal depression) may be related to the future mother’s changing hormonal activity. Extensive hormonal changes happen in all pregnant women. However, not everyone falls ill with depression. Conflicting ideas about becoming a mother, such as difficulty reconciling a career with motherhood, or other unresolved difficulties in life may be looming in the background. Fear of future childbirth can also be a triggering factor in depression.

Approximately 7–20% of expectant mothers suffer from depression during pregnancy. The percentage varies to a great extent across different studies. However, in day-to-day work with expectant mothers, it has been established that the figure may be significantly higher than the lowest percentages presented in the official studies.

The phenomenon is often caused by having previous history with depression, but this is not always the case. Risk factors include but are not limited to the mother being young, single parenthood, unplanned pregnancy, substance abuse problems, and the lack of social support. Previous history, traumatising experiences, and relationship difficulties can also increase the risk of developing antenatal depression.

Depression during pregnancy may be followed by postpartum depression.

Symptoms of depression during pregnancy

Symptoms of pregnancy depression may include:

  • Fatigue.
  • Trouble sleeping. The expectant mother cannot sleep, wakes up early or sleeps all the time.
  • Feeling worthless and losing all joy in life.
  • Uncertainty about her future motherhood.
  • Experiences of inferiority.
  • Feeling low most of the time.
  • Fearful thoughts relating to childbirth and caring for the unborn baby.
  • Noticeable changes to appetite.
  • Trouble with depleted interest in sex.
  • Feelings of utter hopelessness.

Treatment of depression during pregnancy

Seek professional medical help early enough!

Depression during pregnancy is mainly treated with gentle treatment methods, such as conversational support. The conversational support can be given by, for instance, a psychologist, a psychiatric nurse, or a psychotherapist. If the condition of the expectant mother (and the baby growing in the womb) is very poor, medication can also be used.  The prescriber of the medication should be a psychiatrist and the medication should be started after careful deliberation.

When it comes to depression during pregnancy, it is best to seek help without much hesitation. At worst, a mother that has fallen ill with depression can harm both herself and her baby. It is not a sign of weakness but rather one of strength to seek help.

You can ask any of the following for help:

  • Your maternity clinic nurse. The number one place for expectant mothers seeking help is always their own maternity clinic (neuvola). The maternity clinic is there to help, and it is their responsibility to tell you where to find further professional help.
  • Psychologists and psychiatric nurses. From private health care providers, local health centre psychologists, or depression nurses.
  • Private psychotherapists are paid but very skilled professionals. You can also investigate whether the psychotherapist is qualified to provide Kela-reimbursed therapy, in which case you will receive financial support for the sessions. Ask for a referral to a psychotherapist from a psychiatrist.
  • Good psychiatrists work in both the public and the private sector.
  • The child-rearing and family counselling clinic
  • Social workers specialising in families
  • An early interaction therapist in your area. This is now also Kela-reimbursed.
  • Äimä ry has several peer support mothers and members who have experienced depression during pregnancy. You can read more about our means of support here.

(Source: psychologist, special level psychotherapist Suvi Laru from Väestöliitto ry, The Family Federation of Finland)

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