Pregnancy is a very special and important time, but it can also be incredibly stressful. While the symptoms of several medical ailments can, remarkably, remit temporarily during pregnancy, it is now known that pregnancy is NOT protective against mental illness or depression. In other words, even though pregnancy is often viewed as what should be the happiest time in your life, the pregnancy will actually not protect you against feelings of anxiety, depression, etc. In this era where pregnant mothers are increasingly educated about how to maintain as healthy and safe a pregnancy as possible, it is important to also view things from the viewpoint of fetal development.
In fact, when I am reviewing a person’s lifetime experiences and levels of stress, it feels essential to consider the factors that were present even while he was in the womb. Even the mothers with the best intentions, happiest moods, and greatest number of resources can be susceptible to depression. Since new data and studies are being published every day on this matter, there are several things we do know:
- Communication and bonding between mom and baby starts as early as during pregnancy! For example, did you know that a happy, calm mother can even soothe her baby with her regular, rhythmic heartbeat? Similarly, a mother who is severely or chronically stressed can communicate with the baby that the world can be a scary or unpleasant place.
- Many mothers who are experiencing severe depression during pregnancy will also often have less of an inclination towards following up with regular prenatal care, taking multivitamins, may also be inclined towards using drugs/alcohol to medicate their symptoms, may also have worse sleep patterns and habits, and may not have an appetite thus resulting in poorer nutrition during the pregnancy.
- Some stress and intermittent periods of sadness during pregnancy are to be expected because they can be within the realm of the normal human experience. However, studies have recognized that extreme, chronic, unrelenting levels of physical and emotional maternal stress can result in negative outcomes for baby.
- Maternal stress can result in premature birth, low birth weight and smaller head circumference.
- High, chronic maternal levels of stress may result in offspring’s higher levels of reactivity to stress and lower ability to gain pleasure from situations that would otherwise be pleasurable.
It is important to recognize that occasional sadness and stress during pregnancy is part of the normal human experience; however, severe, high levels of anxiety and depression can be concerning for the wellbeing of mom and baby. If you are concerned that you or a loved one who is expecting might be experiencing some concerning symptoms and may benefit from either an evaluation or additional support, please reach out to your medical providers or find a counselor/psychiatrist who can help you with this.