Understanding Women's Mental Health During Pregnancy

Blog contribution courtesy of Tanya Mayer, a parenting and pregnancy blogger from Brisbane Australia. 

Pregnancy is a time when a woman is extremely at risk. Many pregnant women experience mental health problems during pregnancy. Some women often find pregnancy a time of hope or a means of self-realization. Others view it negatively. For example, they may feel inadequate about becoming a mother or may simply fear childbirth.

A research survey carried out by Baby Glimpse in 2017 contributed to a better understanding of mental health during pregnancy. Among 1000 women who participated, 365 admitted to experiencing mood swings and other types of emotional disorders during pregnancy.

Psychiatric disorders not only affect the pregnant woman’s wellbeing but may also have major effects on the unborn baby. Depression during pregnancy, for instance, is a risk factor for premature delivery, psychotic illness, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, as well as adverse birth outcomes.

Clinical depression is the main risk factor for adverse implications for child outcomes.

Recent studies show that about 30% of women experience clinical depression and 20% experience a mood disorder at some point in their lives. Between 10-28% of women experience some kind of mental health problem in pregnancy. About 2-12% experience major depressive symptoms.

According to a study on women receiving prenatal care in California, 24% showed signs of anxiety or depressive disorders. The data confirmed that immune systems, neuroendocrine systems and mood state may play a key role in fetal development and positive outcome.

Stress and anxiety alter the duration of pregnancy

A group of researchers conducted a study to find out whether there is any connection between uterine blood flow and clinical depression. According to their results, mothers with major anxiety disorders had reduced blood flow through uterine arteries. The impaired uterine blood flow could be a contributing factor to infants with elevated cortisol, preterm birth, and lower birth weight.

How a woman’s mental health is affected during pregnancy depends on various factors, such as:

• Whether she is on treatment
• Recent stressful events in her life like relationship breakup or a death of a close family member
• How she feels about her pregnancy. She just may not feel the pregnancy enthusiasm.

Symptoms of mental problems during pregnancy

A woman may have negative thoughts or may feel anxious during pregnancy. She may notice some changes in her body shape and weight. This is especially true if she’s had an eating disorder.

One should not confuse psychiatric disorder such as eating disorders and schizophrenia with pregnancy symptoms. For instance, lack of energy and lack of sleep are common in both depression and pregnancy.

Pregnancy can make some women excited and enthusiastic. For some women, however, it may bring negative or mixed feelings. Teenage pregnancy, for example, is normally considered a social stigma. The pregnant teenage girl or unemployed woman may worry about how she’ll deal with having a baby. This may lead to a severe psychiatric effect on the expectant mother. Others may worry about:

• Changes in their relationship
• Whether she’ll be a great mother
• Fear that she will develop complications during childbirth
• Loneliness and lack of support
• Fear of miscarriage

Anxiety disorder can affect the unborn baby

As said before, stress and anxiety can affect pregnancy outcomes. Clinical depression in a pregnant woman can contribute to a number of issues for the fetus. Some health problems that an unborn baby might develop as a result of the mother’s depression include:

• Less attentiveness
• Slowness in activities
• Irritability and short growth period


Often, a woman suffering from this condition will take antidepressants. However, antidepressants can hurt the fetus as well. Since both excessive stress and antidepressants can hurt the unborn child, a pregnant woman should always rely on the recommendation of the physicians, gynecologists, and psychiatrists. It is also very important a pregnant woman does not stop her medication abruptly, as it can lead to side effects.

Final Thoughts

Pregnant women could be vulnerable to depressive and anxiety disorders. It is, therefore, suggested that psychiatrists, gynecologists, and other health practitioners in different healthcare fields be conversant with the prevalence of mental health disorders, especially during pregnancy. The doctor should frequently test the patient for depression and anxiety a few weeks before pregnancy. The test could help in determining the risk of possible depressive and anxiety disorders during pregnancy and serve as an alert for risks associated with such health conditions, such as postpartum suicide.

It is important for pregnant women to recognize that these symptoms are normal. You are not alone or strange. One practical way to combat your feelings is to shift the focus from you to your baby. Be grateful for the incredible blessing that is growing inside of you and place more attention on what you are thankful for. Shifting one's focus from self to others can often remove the burden of self-doubt and fear. In the midst of such fear and anxiety, think of how you can be a blessing to others through conversation or good deeds. That being said, it is crucial to your health and your baby's health that you have a conversation about your symptoms with a medical professional. Your pregnancy is an event to be celebrated.