Pregnancy can be difficult to live through

As much as pregnancy is an exciting and special time of our lives, it can be a period of profound psychological upheaval.

Despite the increasing amount of information available on the various phases of pregnancy and childbirth and the many advances made in this field, pregnant women appear even more stressed than before.

Many women find it difficult to share and discuss any such anxieties. Especially when pregnancy is considered to be a "wonderful" experience, where everything should go well and in which pregnancy should be lived in rosy fulfilment.

Women who do suffer with fears and anxieties dare not to complain and talk about these problems. Most repress their feelings, and in doing so worsen the way they feel.

Any such anxieties may disrupt your pregnancy and can have an effect on the happiness of the mother and their babies once born.

First and foremost, an understanding the reasons for these fears

Medical information overload: future mothers have access to numerous sources of information, books, journals, magazines, guides, TV and radio programs, encyclopedias ... and now the Internet.

In some women this overload may result in the opposite effect to the one intended.

Changes in your body and weight gain are sometimes difficult things to accept. A fear that your partner will not desire you anymore. Loss of identity; change from career and professional status to motherhood in the home.

The medicalisation of pregnancy. The many number of consultations, examinations, recommendations, warnings and prohibitions can generate fears and anxiety.

Talking with their doctor and relatives can help women who live through this difficult period. Discussion forums can sometimes help to reassure them when mothers discover they are not alone in experiencing these anxieties.

Effects of anxiety on the mother of the baby

Anxious or depressed mothers can increase the risk of their babies suffering from sleep disorders (nightmares, refusal to sleep, sleep problems, ...) according to a study published in 2007 in the American Journal Early Human Development. The quality of sleep in a new-born significantly affects their health and development.

Source: University of Rochester Medical Center:

The baby blues

A difficult period can occur after childbirth commonly called the 'baby blues': it is also known as postpartum depression - a minor transitory period of depression, occurring after the baby is born.

It is caused by pregnancy and childbirth, which are both physically and psychologically demanding times. The accumulation of a lack of sleep can have a significant impact on the mother, as well as feeling overwhelmed with the responsibility of looking after a new baby.

Other causes of the baby blues can be physical discomfort, an unwanted baby, relationship problems, a fear of coping in the future and the transition of change from being pregnant to becoming a mother.

Symptoms occur within three to ten days after delivery and usually present with symptoms of:
  • Hypersensitive reactions
  • Sadness
  • Much crying
  • Sleep disorders, insomnia ..
  • Stress, anxiety ..

These feelings and symptoms can last between 1 and 10 days with the vast majority of mothers recovering quickly, regaining self-confidence and requiring support rather than medication.

If symptoms of the baby blues continue and worsen it can lead to post-natal depression.

Postpartum depression can also affect fathers.

They experience the same symptoms that mothers experience, however fathers rarely acknowledge or realise they are having such difficulties. Talking with their partner, friends, relatives or a doctor is something few men do. However, it is important for them to express their feelings, concerns and to be open about any difficulties they have.

Fathers require the same care and understanding that mothers do, .

Postnatal depression

Postnatal depression is less common and more severe than baby blues. It can affect 10% - 15% of women after giving birth.

It usually begins at 6 or 8 weeks after birth, or sometimes later.

A large majority of women with postnatal depression associate their symptoms of tiredness to the baby's arrival and do not realise that their symptoms are linked to depression.
  • 1 in 10 mothers develops postnatal depression.
  • Postnatal depression lasts for about 3 - 6 months, however 1 in 4 affected mothers are still depressed at 1 year.
  • Symptoms include; sadness, anxiety, apathy, tearful, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, isolation, low mood, poor concentration withdrawal, difficulty in caring for her baby and feelings of inability to cope.

Some mothers with postnatal depression find it difficult to talk and shut themselves off from family and friends. They find it increasingly difficult to care for their baby, ignore them and sometimes leave them to cry helplessly.

Identifying women with postnatal depression as soon as possible enables the appropriate care to be implemented aiding a speedier recovery.

Women with symptoms that suggest they are depressed often do not seek help because they feel guilty for not being "happy". They can hide their feelings and appear normal to people around them yet feel unhappy within. It is important to tell someone and seek medical help if you feel like this.

Ways to help avoid becoming depressed

Find ways that allow you to rest more often.
  • Napping at the same time your baby sleeps
  • Get help with housework - ironing, shopping, cooking
  • Share roles and responsibilities with your partner - asking for help with daily tasks.
  • Keep active, go for walks with the pram and if possible do sports.
  • Do not isolate yourself, talk to your family, health visitor or GP, and take treatment if it prescribed for you.

Treatment can involve taking antidepressant medication and or counselling, which focuses on helping and supporting the mother to recover and if necessary overcome any issues with the relationship with her baby.

There are various types of antidepressant medication, which can take approximately 3 weeks before you start to feel the benefit. If you are breastfeeding, there are medications that are safe to take, be sure you tell your GP that you are breastfeeding.

Negative effects of postnatal depression on babies/children

In severe cases of postnatal depression, where a mother has been unable to care for her baby, studies have shown that depression in a mother could have a negative impact on their children and their development. This could also be the case for fathers that suffer with depression.

Symptoms in babies/children

  • Sleep disorders, colic, diarrhoea, vomiting
  • Delayed psychomotor development
  • Sadness
  • Refusal to eat
  • Violence towards the mother during episodes of separation and change in attitude from the mother.
  • Difficulties in adapting to strangers, to other children in preschool or school ...

Over a quarter of children of mothers with postnatal depression may be affected by the above, which can worsen if help is not sort and given.

Sympathetic pregnancy

Sympathetic pregnancy affects approximately 10 to 15% of future dads with signs similar to those felt by women during their pregnancy.

Some men have nausea, headache and stomach pains, weight gain, constant hunger, back pain and sometimes even contractions and baby blues.

This syndrome starts at the end of the first trimester and gradually increases until the third trimester. Sometimes the symptoms do not disappear until the baby is born.

It is thought that a sympathetic pregnancyfor men is a way for them to re-live the pregnancy of their wives. Theories for this are that they want to establish a role for themselves, or are envious over their wife being able to give birth and for some men they have difficulties accepting the changes in roles within the relationship, especially if the women has been the more dominant partner.

Men sometimes benefit from speaking to their doctor about this, in case of any underlying problems of anxiety, that needs addressing

Denial of pregnancy

It has been known for a long time that some women deny their pregnancy.

Denial of pregnancy can be a severe psychiatric disorder and is defined into 3 categories - Pervasive, Affective and Psychotic.
  • Pervasive denial - occurs when not only the emotional significance but the very existence of the pregnancy is kept from awareness. All physical signs of pregnancy may not be present - weight gain, lack of periods and breast changes may be misconstrued and partners and families may also fail to notice pregnancies.
  • Affective denial - women are intellectually aware of their pregnancy and make no physical or psychological preparation for their pregnancy. These women continue to behave as if they were not pregnant. Women with substance use disorders behave in this way to defend themselves from guilt for the potential harm they are doing to their fetus.
  • Psychotic denial - can occur in women with a history of psychosis and history of loss of custody of other children.
    • Denial concerns 1 to 3 pregnancies per thousand.
    • It can affect any social class
    • Women of any age can be affected
    • Having a child already does not protect against denial
    • A woman in denial is unable to accept her pregnancy
    • The woman is not prepared for birth or the baby's arrival.

Women who deny their pregnancy have often experienced emotional difficulties in childhood and can be suffering from a severe form of psychological conflict.

Risks and problems with pregnancy denial

The woman did not imagine becoming a mother. She does not build a relationship with her baby. The baby appears as an object and not as a living being.

The mother has not managed to make the necessary psychological preparations to prepare for the arrival of her baby. She does not realise that she can give birth anonymously or have her baby adopted. Some are glad to be getting rid of their babies because they can not stand this situation.

In rare cases they will perform infanticide and sometimes keep the baby's body because they cannot separate from them.

For more Information
Association for Postnatal Illness
Tel 0207 386 0868 or
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