Prenatal Depression and Anxiety

Written by

Rob Buist

Published on


Fortunately most of us are now aware that many women wind up suffering from postnatal depression. Perhaps less attention is given to mental health problems that can arise during a pregnancy, including Prenatal Depression. We know that pregnancy and childbirth (not to mention the arrival of a new member of the family) are one of the biggest changes – and challenges – that occurs in most peoples’ lives.

Mental health problems in pregnancy and early parenthood can affect anyone although we know there are some factors that increase the risk of mental health problems in pregnancy and early parenthood. These factors include:

  • A personal or family history of mental health problems,
  • Increased current life stressors such as redundancy, relationship difficulties, or a bereavement,
  • Stressful pregnancy circumstances including problems conceiving, multiple pregnancy or complications occurring during the pregnancy or birth,
  • A lack of practical, social and / or emotional support (such as with single or teenage parents),
  • Current alcohol or drug problems, and
  • A current or past history of abuse.

We know that Aboriginal women, recent immigrants and those who do not have English as their first language are at increased risk of mental health problems around the time of pregnancy.

In addition certain personality “types” are at greater risk of mental health problems around the time of childbirth. These people are those I like to call “high achievers with low self-esteem”, i.e. people:

  • Who are anxious, perfectionists who are “worriers”, and
  • Have low self-esteem and are very self-critical.

Most mental health problems during pregnancy arise as Depression and / or Anxiety. Typical symptoms of Prenatal Depression include:

  • Experiencing a low mood,
  • Feeling inadequate or a failure,
  • Feeling close to tears or crying a lot,
  • Feeling angry, irritable, or resentful,
  • Fear for your baby’s welfare or fear of being alone or going out,
  • Either too little sleep (insomnia) or too much sleep,
  • Appetite changes,
  • Decreased energy and feeling constantly exhausted,
  • A lack of concentration and a poor memory, and
  • Having thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.

Symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Anxiety or fear that interrupts your thoughts,
  • Panic attacks,
  • Constantly feeling irritable, restless or on edge,
  • Being unable to rest or sleep, and
  • Constant worries or fears about your baby’s health or the birth itself.

If you experience any of these symptoms it is really important that you discuss them with your pregnancy caregiver or General Practitioner. In fact in this day and age most pregnancy caregivers in Australia should enquire about these – and other – mental health symptoms. Some even administer a questionnaire to assess your mental health status during your pregnancy. This questionnaire is called The Edinburgh Depression Scale (or Score) – the EDS.

Managing Mental Health problems in pregnancy, including Depression, may include simple measures as improving your support systems and structures. Counselling or the services of a Psychologist or Psychiatrist may be needed and in very rare instances medication may be needed. Of course the health professionals involved in treating Mental Health problems in pregnancy are aware of the safety profile of the various medications used in pregnancy.

Source and further information: Beyond Blue. A guide to Emotional Health and Wellbeing during Pregnancy and Early Parenthood.