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Antenatal depression…what’s that?

Pregnancy depression…what?? Surely you feel that pregnancy glow? Are you thrilled? Completely in love with the little one you’re growing inside? Sadly not!

Hollywood and social media would have us believe that from the moment we find out we are pregnant, we will be filled with utter joy and excitement and will love every moment of carrying a life, even through the nausea, tiredness, and constant weeing. 

For some fortunate people, that is the reality of pregnancy. They glow, they embrace their changing body, and they wear pregnancy well.  However, for others, this picture of love hearts and rainbows could not be further from the truth. In this blog, I want to talk about “Ante-natal depression.” Yes, you did read that right…ANTE-natal depression, not POST-natal depression. The kind of depression that sets in during pregnancy, not after birth. The kind of depression that is not just low mood, or being a bit fed up because you feel a bit crap. This is hardcore, debilitating, full mental shutdown, depression that sets in when you become pregnant! 

Victoria in a Hypnobirthing session

Never heard of it? Neither had I until I experienced it…twice! I have no personal history of mental illness, no family history of depression, and my babies were both very much wanted and planned. Yet there I was, living in a big black cloud with no idea what was going on. Hello antenatal depression!

Studies differ in suggested prevalence rates, but generally, the statistic of how many people are affected by it falls somewhere between 5 – 15%. Let’s call it 1 in 10 for ease of maths. That’s a lot of pregnant people walking around pretending everything’s fine, feeling too scared or ashamed to speak out, and admitting they hate life. 

Antenatal depression receives disproportionately less attention in research and interventions compared to post-natal depression, and undoubtedly the statistic is higher than 5-15%, as many people will be powering through without reporting it. Hence why so many people have never heard of it!  Feeling a bit low is kind of expected during pregnancy, but persistent very low mood, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, difficulty coping with life, extreme anxiety, emotional detachment, irritability, and feelings of hopelessness… are more than just normal pregnancy feelings. Depression symptoms can arise at any stage of pregnancy and can go as quickly as they come. 

In both my pregnancies I experienced this up until about weeks 15 - 16. Diagnosis is complex due to many of the symptoms overlapping with typical pregnancy experiences, such as feeling tired and sleeping badly. However, feelings of not wanting to live anymore, or not wanting your baby (despite them being absolutely planned), indicate something more serious is going on and you should get professional help. 

There are various treatment options that can help with the symptoms of antenatal depression, but it’s important to try and identify what has triggered it and to choose what’s right for you.  

Victoria with her children

In my case, I was having a “reaction” to the change in progesterone levels in my body during the first trimester.  Some people apparently just don’t handle progesterone particularly well (it would explain why I was angry and numb on the mini-pill years ago!) I was one of the lucky ones, knowing it would pass once my hormone levels changed again as the pregnancy progressed. But it did mean that aside from medication, which I chose not to take, there weren’t really any other treatment options available, aside from holistic approaches. Tapping anyone? (Google it, it was fab!) 

While not always preventable, early intervention and awareness of risk factors can mitigate the impact antenatal depression has, emphasizing the importance of seeking help as soon as you realise you need it. Studies suggest that with appropriate treatment, most people do experience improvements in symptoms. In my case, it just went with time, and fortunately, my post-natal experience was unaffected.

For some people however, it can be triggered by specific risk factors, such as exposure to abuse or violence, lack of social support, and personal or family history of mental disorders. Seeking social support, prioritizing health, and practicing stress management techniques complement professional interventions and can go a long way in supporting someone suffering from it. 

Effective treatments for antenatal depression in these cases can include cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), talking therapies, and medication (such as the antidepressant Sertraline). Studies highlight the need for early recognition and intervention to promote maternal mental health post-natally and positive pregnancy outcomes, but that is easier said than done. Getting help can feel so incredibly difficult. If you are already feeling like a bad mum in your head, or if you are overwhelmed with anxiety, putting a spotlight on your perceived incompetence will likely make you feel worse.  

A study into reasons why people don’t seek help more found that trust-related issues concerning healthcare providers and treatment options were identified as significant barriers. Participants in the study expressed apprehensions about providers' abilities to address concerns about antenatal depression and fetal medication exposure, as well as fears about endangering parental rights. So basically, they were afraid they either wouldn’t be believed, that they would be deemed an unfit parent, or that they would be forced to medicate! 

Victoria carrying her new born child after birth

During my first pregnancy, when it hit me like a ton of bricks out of the blue, I was desperate to conceal it from everyone, afraid of judgment and full of shame. However, with baby 2, I had a better understanding that it was a hormonal response and that it would pass, so I called on all the support I had available and rode the wave. I was lucky it was so short-lived, although it felt never-ending at the time!

Some studies have shown that when left untreated, and if it persists throughout the entire pregnancy, antenatal depression can be linked to poor birth outcomes, particularly preterm birth and low birth weight…So it’s always advisable to get help. 

Admitting you are finding things tough, or aren’t enjoying every second, DOES NOT make you a bad mum. If someone you know is struggling with antenatal depression, encourage them to seek support, share this blog with them, and be there for them, as practically as you can. When I was in its full grip, I just wanted someone to come and clean my house, cook me food, and look after my child. Be that person for a friend who’s struggling. 

Always speak to your doctor or midwife if you are worried about your own mental health, and know that you are not alone. Remember, you’re already a great mum, and your baby can’t hear your thoughts. I took great comfort in remembering that.

You can read some of the studies I have referenced HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.

If you want to chat more about it, please feel free to get in touch, my inbox is always open.  

Love, Victoria x 

Picture of Victoria

I am a Norwich based “3 step rewind” practitioner, helping people process difficult birth experiences, and a Hypnobirthing practitioner. You can find me at or email me


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