Very often we assume that a woman should have the best feelings of joy during pregnancy. However, many women experience mood swings and feelings of depression, sadness, anxiety, and confusion during pregnancy. It is common to find women who are anxious about their baby's well being, their personal state of health and even worry about how they will cope with nursing and taking care of the baby after delivery.
But what happens when these feelings increase in intensity and become overwhelming? Can they affect the unborn child? Some mothers even feel that unborn kids can be shielded from their emotional problems.
Until recently, researchers did not know that there was a relationship between the mental health of an expectant mother and the development of the baby after birth. However, recent scientific studies reveal that during pregnancy, emotional and mental health problems will have an effect on the future development of the child.
Research suggests that during the depression, there is an increase in the stress hormone, cortisol and this can affect the development of the fetus in the womb. A study carried out in Bristol University suggest that children born by women who were depressed in pregnancy are more likely to become depressed at the age of 18 years.
The study published in JAMA Psychiatry was conducted by a group of researchers at Bristol University's school of social community medicine, was conducted on over 4,000 parents and their children. The findings showed that the best time to help children and prevent them from having depression in future is while they are in the womb.
Similarly, findings from a study published in JAMA Pediatrics revealed that there's a relationship between the mental health of a mother and the development of the white matter in the child's brain a month after delivery.
The study found that children, whose mothers had significantly higher levels of depression symptoms, had imaging test results with poor white matter microstructure. This indicates a slightly less developed white matter in the brains of these kids. The development of the white matter of the children is known to affect their mental health later in life. The white matter in the brain works like the wiring in your computer. It enables the brain to process information faster and make the right connections between the parts of the brain that are responsible for body movements and controlling emotions.
During the study, the researchers were able to get a sense of the mother's anxiety and depression symptoms by getting mothers to provide a response to statements like: "I have felt miserable or sad", "I have been worried or anxious without any good reason". A month after delivery, MRI scans of the brains of their babies were taken while sleeping. Researchers discovered that the development of white matter and the depression symptoms were directly related.
These studies show that the most important time to intervene in the mental health of the future generation is while they are in the womb. With close to one-fifth of women developing symptoms of depression in the womb, it is important that efforts are made to treat all depression and anxiety symptoms during pregnancy so they don't cause a rise in the number of children who will have to battle with depression in future.
How to treat pregnant women with mental problems
Helping pregnant women to lower their stress levels and reduce their anxiety or depression symptoms should be seen as a service to humanity. Just as we work to protect the environment for the next generation, all expectant mothers and their caregivers must-see take this task with all seriousness. Here are the basic steps to treat mental issues in pregnancy
* Identify symptoms of depression. Gynecologists, nurses, and midwives need to learn to identify early signs of depression in expectant mothers. Efforts must be made during ante-natal visits to ask questions that can reveal any symptoms of depression. Pregnant mothers must also know how to identify symptoms of anxiety and be encouraged to seek medical help promptly.
* Examination and diagnosis. Any pregnant woman with signs of depression must be carefully examined and diagnosed. All necessary tests should be carried out to ascertain the type of depression and the real cause of the problem.
* Use an effective treatment plan. Every pregnant woman will need a unique and personalized treatment plan. A comprehensive treatment plan will include use of medication, counseling or support groups and it should involve her husband, friends, and other family members.
With the evidence that mental health problems like depression and anxiety in pregnancy can affect the future development of the child, all mothers must make effort to maintain excellent mental and emotional health during pregnancy. Feelings of anxiety, depression must not be allowed to persist during pregnancy because studies now show that emotional and mental problems can affect the health and emotional stability of the unborn child. Healthcare providers must also pay closer attention to the mental health of expectant mothers during ante-natal care.