It used to be believed that pregnancy would protect women from mental health problems and immediately made them happy and even ecstatic. Luckily for those who don’t experience this, we now know that this isn’t true. Although being pregnant is a wonderful blessing for many, the hormone changes, symptoms of discomfort, and reality of how life will be changing can make this time fraught with stress, guilt, depression, anxiety, and mood swings as well.
Women are more likely to experience a mood or anxiety disorder than men, and even more so during the childbearing years. You may be wondering why this is so, and there are a couple of answers for this. The first is that hormone changes can be abrupt and drastic. Just as hormones can affect women during their menstrual cycle, they can affect women emotionally and psychologically during pregnancy. Although I’m not going to go into detail, basically the changes also effects the neurotransmitters in the brain that regulate mood. Although all pregnant women experience the hormone changes, not all develop anxiety, mood disorders, or other mental health issues. It is believed that a person is more likely to experience a mental health disorder if they are predisposed to it, meaning they have the gene. If a person is predisposed, they still need something to happen to switch the gene from inactive to active, and the hormone changes of pregnancy is likely to do that. In addition, for those who have already experienced problems with mood and anxiety, the hormone changes may be enough to activate another episode.
Other reasons that women are more likely to experience these issues during pregnancy is due to insecurities over changes that are ocurring during pregnancy or about their own capabilities as a parent as well as their own situation not being seen as ideal. Some women have a difficult time adjusting to the weight changes and may begin eating disorderly in order to compensate while others use it as an excuse to binge on food as they are now “eating for two”. Knowing that you will now be completely responsibile for another human being can be anxiety provoking. Other women feel as though they were not ready to be having a baby (or another baby) and may be less than thrilled about their living situation, financial status, and other relationships.
Now that you have a greater understanding of why women are likely to experience some of these issues during and after pregnancy, next week we will talk about how to prevent them from happening to you and what to do if you do begin to experience symptoms.