Antenatal Depression

How is Antenatal Depression Treated?

Depression is an equal opportunity disorder, and it doesn’t discriminate. Anyone can develop depression, but some people are more at risk than others. Women, in particular, will be diagnosed with the disease at twice the rate of men. The unique risk factors facing women, including environmental stress, discrimination, and hormonal vulnerabilities can increase their chances of experiencing the symptoms of depression. Unfortunately, depression can happen during pregnancy. Because of the unique needs of pregnant women and their developing babies, treatment methods for antenatal depression are much different than treatment for other forms of the disorder.

Antenatal Depression

What is antenatal depression?

Depression can strike at any time in a person’s life, but the chances of a woman experiencing the disease increases during pregnancy. Up to ten percent of pregnant women will develop antenatal depression. Unfortunately, then symptoms of antenatal depression can mimic the usual signs of pregnancy, including fatigue, tiredness, and random aches and pains. It can be difficult for women and their loved ones to realize that what they’re feeling is something more insidious than the typical symptoms of pregnancy.

For women who experience antenatal depression and don’t get help for the disorder, their chances of it the disorder turning into postpartum depression dramatically increase. Untreated postpartum depression is incredibly dangerous for women and their babies. Postpartum depression can harm a mother’s bond with her baby, and failing to properly bond with an infant increases the child’s risk of experiencing developmental delays and emotional issues later in life.

Why do women get antenatal depression?

Often, antenatal depression is rooted in the hormonal changes of pregnancy. But many other factors can contribute to its onset. Women with a history of depression before pregnancy are at increased risk of developing both antenatal and postnatal depression, but it’s not an inevitability. Other risk factors include:

  • Having a difficult pregnancy.
  • Worry and fear over motherhood.
  • Experiencing economic or relationship hardship while pregnant.
  • Not having a partner and little social support.
  • Having a history of abuse.
  • The pregnancy is unplanned or unwanted.
  • Experiencing a pregnancy loss in the past.

Women with a history of mental health disorders should inform their doctors or midwives of their histories. Because the symptoms of antenatal depression mimic usual pregnancy symptoms, informed clinicians can see when a particular sign, or cluster of symptoms in an at-risk patient,  is cause for concern. The sooner a woman can get treatment for their antenatal depression, the better the outcomes will be for both her and her baby.

What are the symptoms of antenatal depression?

Antenatal depression symptoms will vary for each woman, but in general, the signs are rooted in fear and anxiety over the impending birth of the child. Depression symptoms also manifest in all areas of a person’s life, including emotionally, behaviorally, and physically. Women with antenatal depression may experience the following symptoms:

  • Feeling “low” or uncharacteristically sad most of the time.
  • Having lower levels of energy than is considered normal for pregnancy.
  • Frequently tearful or irritable.
  • Low self-esteem and guilt.
  • Anxiety and fear over motherhood.
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions.
  • Feeling that the baby will be better off with someone else.
  • Loss of interest in usual activities.
  • Social withdrawal and isolation.
  • Feeling detached.

What can be done to alleviate antenatal depression symptoms?

Fortunately, there are many different treatment options for pregnant women with depression. Women who are experiencing the symptoms of antenatal depression should talk to their doctor or midwife about what they’re feeling. An experienced clinician can develop a customized treatment plan that suits the patient’s circumstances and the severity of their depression. For women with mild to moderate antenatal depression, talk therapy is usually all they need. Talk therapy is also a viable option for pregnant women who are cautious about taking antidepressant medications while pregnant. But, it’s important to note that some antidepressants are safe to take while pregnant.

  • Prozac
  • Zoloft
  • Effexor XR
  • Wellbutrin
  • Cymbalta
  • Pamelor

What can be done for women with severe antenatal depression?

About 30% of all people with depression will not respond to antidepressants. Pregnant women with severe, treatment-resistant depression can try alternative therapies to alleviate their symptoms that are safe for babies.

ECT is a well-known and established method for treating stubborn cases of depression. It is also safe for pregnant women and developing fetuses. But ECT is an invasive procedure, and women who undergo ECT cannot drive after a session. They may also experience short-term memory loss after ECT which can be distressing. Fortunately, ECT is not the only deep brain stimulation technique that is safe for pregnancy.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation is a viable option for antenatal depression sufferers. It is a non-invasive procedure and does not affect the fetus. In recent studies conducted on pregnant women with major depression who tried TMS therapy, 75% saw a reduction in symptoms. All of the women in the study were between 14 and 34 weeks gestation, and sessions were conducted in 15 minute time frames for a total of 20 sessions. TMS therapy is most effective when patients also receive talk therapy for depression.

What happens during TMS?

A TMS session typically lasts about 45 minutes to one hour. A powerful magnetic coil is placed over the patient’s head and delivers strong, magnetic pulses to areas of the brain thought to play a role in depression. Patients are fully awake and do not have to take any sedatives or other medications before a session. They are free to drive and return to work or school after a session. Side effects of TMS are usually mild and include a headache or tingling on the scalp where the magnet was placed.

Treating antenatal depression with TMS is still a developing field, but it shows promise. For women with severe depression or women who do not want to take antidepressants during pregnancy, TMS is a safe and effective alternative.

Are you or someone you care about suffering from antenatal depression? There is hope. The caring and experienced clinicians at Pulse TMS are standing by to answer your questions about TMS for antenatal depression. Please contact us today to explore your treatment options.