Treating depression during pregnancy has never been simple, unless you consider the simplicity of completely denying its existence. That’s pretty much where we were with pregnancy depression less than ten years ago, when the leading theory was that pregnancy hormones would level out any depression lows the mom to be might be feeling.
We now know that’s not true. We also know that depression during pregnancy (known as antenatal depression) does present risks to the fetus in development. Medication is often prescribed to alleviate symptoms and reduce these risks. The problem is that the medicine comes with risks of its own. Which puts pregnant women and their doctors in the difficult position of trying to decide: Which is the lesser of the two evils? Depression during pregnancy, or depression medication during pregnancy?
In her new piece for Babble, writer Amy Reiter takes a good look at the risks and benefits of treatment for prenatal depression and of riding the depression untreated. She doesn’t necessarily have any big solutions, but she explores both sides of the issue, and comes up with what seems to be the only real answer anyone can come up with at this point: each woman’s depression is a unique case, and needs to be evaluated by a professional who’s familiar both with her individual psychology and with the various treatment options and how they might affect a pregnancy and a fetus in development. In some cases, the risks of the medication are too great for the extent of the depression and the risks it might pose. In other cases, it’s the reverse. So the key is to have a good, experienced doctor with insight and up to date knowledge about anti-depressant drugs and the ever-evolving body of research on their effects in pregnancy.
Though there’s very little awareness about it among the general public, antenatal depression is just as common as its sister, postpartum depression. Perhaps it’s another piece of the same puzzle, whether the cause is hormonal, circumstantial or both. Postpartum depression has come out of the closet in recent years. As our understanding of the phenomenon of antenatal depression grows, let’s hope we learn more about how to effectively treat this disorder and improve the health and lives of the women and children who deal with it—whether that treatment is with medication or without.