Approaching treatment for any condition during pregnancy can be difficult. This is especially true in the case of antenatal depression. Sadly, many cases go undiagnosed, as doctors prefer to address purely physical symptoms and avoid discussing the possibility of medication that may harm the unborn child. This belief is held so firmly that women who have successfully used medication for the treatment of depression in the past choose to give it up, only to experience a relapse in symptoms. Medication is only one of many options, however. There are several proven-safe alternatives that are effective for many women.
Natural treatments: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective and safest forms of treatment for antenatal depression. In this method, the expectant mother will learn to uncover any negative thought patterns regarding her pregnancy, motherhood, and her child. She will have the opportunity to explore anxieties and any negative self-talk. With the guidance of a qualified therapist, these thought patterns can be identified and new coping strategies can be developed. Often, these negative emotions are the result of beliefs developed over a lifetime. By becoming aware of the cause, the expectant mother can significantly affect the thoughts that overwhelming her. This also enhances her relationship with her body, as she becomes familiar with the effects of these thought patterns and their corresponding discomforts. It is also thought to create a more responsive bond with the expectant child. Preliminary studies have shown that women experiencing depression during pregnancy have a much slower response rate to infant distress. Women who underwent Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for their depression had a significant positive change in their level of responsiveness throughout the study.
Traditional therapy is not the only option. Current studies are being performed to determine whether online therapy is more effective than in-office treatment. The hypothesis is that pregnant women will have a greater success rate as they can avoid the stigma of seeking treatment for a mood disorder. When able to access care in a more anonymous fashion, it is thought that women experiencing antenatal depression are much more likely to seek out and benefit from treatment.
Natural treatments: Lifestyle Changes
Pregnancy is a time of great adjustment, and it often upsets an established routine. For many women, an entirely new lifestyle must be employed in order to maintain healthy habits throughout this period. The following are areas that are thought to increase positive mood and help in the treatment of antenatal depression:
Doctor-approved, moderately intense workouts are encouraged during pregnancy. This prepares the body for labor, boosts mood, helps manage strain, and encourages deeper sleep. Many gyms offer pregnancy classes, and yoga studios have prenatal programs that are tailored to the needs of expectant mothers. Exercise can help boost serotonin levels, which are linked with positive mood. Exercise can also manage cortisol which is known as the stress hormone. Cortisol can also decrease immunity. It is important to ensure that any new exercise introduced during the antenatal period be approved by a doctor, as there are certain conditions that make exercise contraindicated.
Pregnant women are known for their bizarre food cravings. It is important to look beneath these cravings to determine the nutritional reason behind these food preferences. Women experiencing antenatal depression are encouraged to eat a diet rich in whole foods. Foods containing caffeine, sugar, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and processed carbs are all linked to spikes in mood that may make the symptoms of depression more prevalent.
Supplements & Herbal Remedies
There are many herbs and supplements that affect mood. St. John’s Wort, 5-HTP, SAM-e, vitamin B6, and magnesium are all options that can be explored with a naturopath or physician. Omega-3 and fish oil supplements can help manage the symptoms of depression, but care should be taken to ensure that these supplements are free of mercury.
Natural treatments: Acupuncture
Preliminary research shows that acupuncture may be as effective as Prozac in treating depression. Acupuncturists insert needles into specific body parts to allow energy to flow evenly throughout the body. Western research believes that the needle insertion may trigger natural painkillers in the brain. Though a lot of its benefit is attributed to a placebo effect, acupuncture is considered safe during pregnancy.
Explore Your Options
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of antenatal depression, know that you have many options. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help you develop new thought patterns in order to celebrate this time of nurturing and growth. Lifestyle changes will support both your mental health and your developing baby. Next, we will explore different medications and the circumstances that make them necessary during pregnancy.