Many Women Are Battling Depression During Pregnancy. Here’s What To Know, If You’re Struggling

by | Feb 15, 2023 | Mental Health

In South Africa, between 21 and 47% of women experience depression during pregnancy. The global average? 12%. This means South African women are at higher risk during a crucial period of their lives. Depression during pregnancy can also often continue well into childbirth and beyond. “Pregnancy-related depression is often dismissed as ‘just the baby blues’ and women are told to ‘just pull yourself together’, but it is a serious mental health condition which not only negatively affects women’s quality of life and experience of motherhood, but the prospects of the next generation too,” says Doctor Bavi Vythilingum, a member of the South African Society of Psychiatrists.

Why does depression during pregnancy happen?

Dr Bavi says this is down to a number of factors. For one, pregnancy is an inherently life-altering event that can be stressful, and hormones might play a role. For another, the rates of intimate partner violence in South Africa are high and could lead to depression.

In South Africa, violence against women worsens when a woman is pregnant. Substance abuse during pregnancy can also be a driver of depression. “The use of alcohol and substances puts the woman at risk of depression and also creates a vicious cycle where depression makes somebody use substances more, putting both the mother and the child at risk,” says Dr Bavi.

There are also genetic factors. “If your mother had depression, you are more likely to get depression,” explains Dr Bavi. And then there are cases where women might have been depressed in earlier pregnancies (or, who get depressed during their menstrual cycle), which increases the risk of depression in any subsequent pregnancies.

READ MORE: Want To Manifest Your Goal? Don’t Make These Manifesting Mistakes

The risks of depression during pregnancy

“Depression during pregnancy can have an effect on the unborn child,” says Dr Bavi. “It’s associated with an increased risk for things like preterm labour, for small gestational age babies (when the baby doesn’t grow properly) and for pregnancy-induced hypertension.”

If depression continues after childbirth, this affects mother-child bonding, growth and development of the infant.

READ MORE: 7 Ways To Meditate For Anxiety Relief That Are *Actually* Easy To Do

Signs of depression

Generally, a low mood that’s prolonged can be a sign of depression. Also, changes in appetite, sleeping too much or too little, wanting to self-harm, lack of motivation and lack of interest in things that used to be interesting are also warning signs.

READ MORE: How To Support A Loved One If You Think They Are Suicidal

What to do, if you think you’re depressed

The first line of defence would be psychotherapy, says Dr Bavi. “Many women don’t get better on psychotherapy or can’t access psychotherapy,” she notes. If this is the case, medication in the form of SSRIs can be taken. They’re safe for use during pregnancy and won’t pose a risk to the baby, Dr Bavi says.

Depression during pregnancy is a serious issue and poses risks to both the mother and the child. If you suspect you’re struggling, get help by contacting a psychologist or psychiatrist.

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) lists toll-free helplines for general depression and anxiety, and has free support groups around the country for various issues, including support for expectant and new mothers. Call 0800 21 22 23 for help and information.

In addition, you can join the network for a caring community of women supporting women.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This