Antenatal depression

Depression during pregnancy can be hard to recognise and accept. Find out more about the symptoms and treatment of antenatal depression.

It’s not uncommon for pregnant women to experience changes in emotions - you may feel moody or tearful or angry from time to time. However, if you feel that you are tired all the time, have lost interest in yourself or your pregnancy, always feel down or anxious or angry, or can’t sleep, then you may have antenatal depression.

Pregnancy is generally seen as a time of cheerfulness, fulfilment and joy. Perhaps because of this, depression during pregnancy can be difficult both for you and the people around you to accept and recognise.

Common concerns include:

  • how you feel about going through such a major life-stage changing event.
  • how you view yourself.
  • the restrictions to your lifestyle that motherhood will place on you.
  • how your partner or family feel about the baby.

Although these concerns are not uncommon, pregnancy depression, symptoms or worries should not be ignored. There are various antenatal depression treatments that can help if you are suffering during pregnancy.

Treatment

If you think that you may be depressed, it is important that you talk either to your midwife or GP, so that they can help you.

It may also be helpful to think about these recommendations, made by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, during pregnancy:

  • Don’t try to be ‘superwoman’. Try to do less and make sure that you don’t get over-tired.
  • Do make friends with other women who are pregnant or have just had a baby. It may be more difficult to make new friends if you get PND.
  • Do find someone you can talk to. If you don’t have a close friend you can turn to, try NCT’s Early Days groups. Your local group can be very supportive both before and after childbirth.
  • Do go to antenatal classes. If you have a partner, take them with you. If not, take a friend or relative.
  • Don't stop antidepressant medication during pregnancy without medical advice. Around seven in 10 women who stop antidepressants in pregnancy relapse if they stop the medication. You need to discuss the risks and benefits of continuing treatment in pregnancy and while breastfeeding (see section below).
  • Do keep in touch with your GP and your health visitor if you have had depression before. Any signs of depression in pregnancy or PND can be recognised early.
  • Do make sure that you have treatment for depression in pregnancy. This may be a talking therapy or medication.
  • Do accept offers of help from friends and family.

Postnatal depression (PND) is more likely to occur if you have experienced depression before so you may find it helpful to look at our article Your feelings after birth and postnatal depression.

Antidepressants and breastfeeding

Women with symptoms of depression can often be reluctant to take medication, due to the fear of becoming dependant and possible effects if they are breastfeeding. If you are prescribed antidepressants and you are breastfeeding, you should check with your GP that they are appropriate to take. Few adverse responses have been reported and, despite reports that antidepressants are safe while breastfeeding, the long-term effects of them on the baby are still unknown.  

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.  We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.

NICE publishes a booklet Mental health problems during pregnancy and after giving birth covering antenatal and postnatal depression.