Common mental health symptoms in pregnancy

Pregnancy comes with many symptoms – both physical and emotional – and sometimes the line between the physical and emotional can seem a bit blurry.  So, how do you know if symptoms you are experiencing are a normal part of pregnancy or something else?

What is normal?

It is normal to feel emotional at times in pregnancy and/or have feelings of anticipation in pregnancy as you are coming closer to a new beginning to your life with the arrival of your baby.  It is also quite understandable to have some concerns about the baby, giving birth and how you will adapt to life with the new addition.

However, if you are feeling sad, have lost interest or enjoyment in things that you once enjoyed or find yourself worrying over things to the point that it is causing you to feel distressed, this could be a sign of antenatal depression or anxiety.

Common mental health symptoms

Sleep disturbance

For women, particularly, it is perfectly understandable if your sleep is affected while you are pregnant – particularly later on in pregnancy when the size of your belly can negatively impact on your quality of sleep.  However, sleep disturbance, which includes both not being able to sleep and wanting to sleep constantly, can be a sign of a mental health condition, like antenatal depression and/or anxiety.

Ongoing lack of sleep can also negatively impact your emotional wellbeing and increase your risk of developing a mental health condition or worsen any conditions that you may already be experiencing.

Changes in appetite

Another common symptom of a mental health condition that often feels like a physical symptom is eating less, being disinterested in food or, on the other end of the scale, using food as a source of comfort and, therefore, eating significantly more than before pregnancy.

Good nutrition is especially important for you and your developing baby but your appetite should not change too dramatically just because you are pregnant.  Whilst later in pregnancy you may need to eat smaller amounts more often, the calories and volume of food that you consume should only be slightly more than before you were pregnant – not double or triple that amount.

So, if you are finding that your appetite has changed drastically, it can actually be a symptom that something may not be fully right with your mental health.

Drinking more alcohol, smoking or taking other drugs

It is not uncommon to unwind with a drink or a cigarette at times when you might feel stressed or trying to feel more relaxed.  However, this can become a trap as, whilst there may be short-term benefits, this does not help in the longer term and can make things worse.

Drinking, smoking and taking drugs have negative impacts for both women and men during pregnancy.  It is common for people to smoke, use alcohol or other drugs to help manage symptoms, like depression and anxiety.  However, this will only make the problem worse and have negative direct or indirect impacts upon your developing baby.  It is important to seek help early for yourself or your partner.

Ongoing stress leading to distress

Whilst it is quite normal to be aware of your baby and be concerned for their health, if you are constantly feeling nervous, having anxious thoughts or worrying that something is wrong or will go wrong, it may be an indication of antenatal anxiety.  These symptoms are often ignored or attributed to hormones or general stress about having a baby, but that is not always the case.  If these types of thoughts and feelings continue for over two weeks, increase in frequency or are hard to manage, you should not ignore them as they may be a sign of antenatal anxiety, which is a condition that can be effectively managed and treated.

Frequent ups and downs

If you are finding yourself having ongoing mood swings that last for two months or more, this is not something to just dismiss as relating to a change in your hormones.  Rather, it could be a symptoms of antenatal depression and you should speak to your health professional about it.

Something not quite right?  Check it out early!

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms in a way that is ongoing and impacting on your ability to carry out everyday activities, it could very well be a sign that something is not quite right.  It can be easy to be tempted to ignore these symptoms, to attribute them to other aspects of pregnancy or simply try to ride them out.  However, doing so will prevent you from identifying if something is not quite right and from managing these symptoms with help from a health professional.  Moreover, the failure to get help early can lead to your symptoms worsening both in pregnancy and once your baby arrives.

So, instead, try to pay attention to how your are feeling, the symptoms you are experiencing and how long you have been feeling this way and bring this information to your health professional, who can best assess whether you are possibly experiencing the symptoms of a mental health condition.