Big Issues

Babycentre Reveals Scale Of Antenatal Depression In UK

Most mums to be will now be aware of the risk of developing postnatal depression after having their baby but could the signs of mental health problems be spotted even before the birth?

NHS data suggests up to 15% of women suffer antenatal depression, although a new survey suggests this could be far higher.

Research by BabyCentre has revealed that around a third of women experience five or more key indicators of antenatal depression – such as feeling anxious for no reason, losing interest in day-to-day activities and feeling so unhappy they cry.

Pregnancy Baby Blues

How Big A Problem Is Depression During Pregnancy?

The study by BabyCentre suggests that almost a quarter of a million* pregnant women each year in the UK could be battling depression during their pregnancies.

But the survey of more than 1,000 UK mums found that nearly half (42%) don’t talk to a healthcare professional about their symptoms and more than one in four women haven’t discussed their symptoms with anyone – including their partner, a close friend or a family member. The main reasons for not speaking out were that the women felt guilty (reported by 74%), embarrassed about their feelings (62%), or feared they would be judged by the people around them (58%). 

It seems there is still a long way to go before depression is seen as a normal and natural risk factor during pregnancy in the same way as physical issues like high blood pressure or diabetes.

Sasha Miller, International Managing Editor of BabyCentre, said:

Our study paints a stark picture of the alternative face of pregnancy – it’s not all baby showers, blossoming bumps and baby moons. While pregnancy is an emotional time for any woman and occasional mood swings are normal, so many women experiencing so many symptoms so much of the time is a serious problem. Women feel under pressure to act like they are having a perfect pregnancy but the reality is very different for huge numbers of mums-to-be.
There is still a stigma attached to depression and our research shows that admitting to suffering from symptoms whilst pregnant is something many expectant mums feel unable to do. As a result they aren’t seeking the help and support they need from health professionals. This needs to change.

When Little B was born we both went through some dark times and Mrs B says she was definitely left feeling depressed as a result of a traumatic labour. At the time she put it down to the ‘baby blues’ but she did seek help when her symptoms didn’t lift.

However, I think there needs to be much better post-natal after care for new mums, especially if they’ve had a difficult birth. I think it is far too easy for health visitors and midwives to focus on the mum’s physical recovery and whether the baby is well – important of course, but if mum isn’t coping emotionally that needs to be picked up early and without stigma.

And worries during pregnancy should be a trigger for extra support being put in place after the birth. Women frequently experiencing the symptoms of antenatal depression are nine times more likely to worry about developing postnatal depression. But we don’t recall anyone asking how Mrs B was feeling about having a baby, or the birth, when she was pregnant. In our case that probably wouldn’t have made a difference but I do think it would be a good idea for midwives to be trained to look for signs of anxiety and depression and flag this for follow-up once the baby is born.

PANDAS is the leading UK charity supporting families suffering from antenatal and postnatal illnesses. 

Rachael Jones, Co Founder and CEO of PANDAS, says:

Anyone feeling as though they are suffering from symptoms of prenatal depression can speak to their midwife, GP or NHS 111. It is important to be able to discuss how they are feeling so family and friends can begin to support them. They can also seek advice and support from organisations such as PANDAS. We’re working hard to let people know that ‘It’s OK no to be OK’. The main thing I urge is that anyone suffering does speak about how they are feeling.

What To Do If You’re Worried About Depression During Pregnancy
  • Talk to your midwife or doctor about your symptoms early – explain that you’re feeling more than just a bit low.
  • Take your own needs seriously. Take care of yourself and resist the urge to keep trying to do everything. Taking care of yourself is an essential part of taking care of your baby
  • Don’t be scared to admit that you’re unhappy. Opening up about your feelings with your partner, family or friends is a good source of emotional support and will stop you feeling isolated
  • Try to get some gentle exercise to help lift your mood – try swimming, walking or pregnancy yoga
  • If you’ve tried to bring yourself out of a low spell but nothing is helping, consider a support group or talk to your doctor or midwife about talking therapies
  • Call PANDAS Help Line (0843 28 98 104) for a confidential and friendly way to talk about your feeling and any concerns
  • Get more advice from the PANDAS website 

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8 replies »

  1. Thanks for sharing such an important topic. I was lucky in that apart from one day where I broke down in tears, I didn’t really suffer with any baby blues let alone depression. Every baby brings different emotions and different hormones so you never ever know when it might hit. Such an important thing to talk about. Thanks so much for linking up with #TwinklyTuesday

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  2. It’s so important to be aware of this, isn’t it?! I don’t think the stigma is quite the same as it was years ago, which is a brilliant thing. I wonder sometimes whether it’s not so much a fear of stigma that stops people from coming forward, but the brain fog that comes with depression. It can be hard to recognise symptoms of depression that could easily be attributed to a lack of sleep, adjusting to big changes etc. xxx

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    • I’m sure fear is a major factor but you are right it can also be confusion about what constitutes antenatal depression. Pregnancy is such an anxious time for many women anyway, so I think it can be very hard to separate out what are accepted levels of anxiety from something that is adversely affecting your health. Thanks for your thoughts.

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  3. Such an important issue. I do remember being asked about how I was feeling about everything with baby 1 & 2 so maybe things are changing or maybe the care differs between trusts.
    I hope your post & this report helps mums-to-be & new mums feel more able to discuss their feelings so they can get help sooner if they’re struggling.
    Dads should also be aware that they too can suffer from depression and anxiety with a new baby. They need support too.
    #TwinklyTuesday

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    • Thanks for commenting. I think there is a lot of variety in the standards of care between NHS Trusts. And the Maternal Mental Health Alliance found a post code lottery in provision of services for parents struggling with depression. You’re right about dads and I think awareness of mh issues in general among men has a way to go. But mums are still most at risk and clearly aren’t always getting help they need. Keep speaking up!

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