There is no doubt, even as we move swiftly in to the 21st Century, that depression continues to carry a stigma with it. For this reason, the words depression and pregnancy hardly seem as if they should belong in the same sentence and yet the growing number of women reporting anxiety, depression and stress-like symptoms whilst pregnant seems to be growing, overtaking the original figures (around 1 in ten) suggested by research carried out by Dr Jonathan Evans from Bristol University in 2001.
It is encouraging, when I receive emails from members of the public from all over the world, to read how relieved they are to know they are not alone. When I set up this website in 2004, following my own experience of depression and anxiety in pregnancy, I did it with one view in mind – if it helped one person I had achieved my goal. It continues to help hundreds of women every week. The free electronic copy of my Guide to Ante-natal depression is a popular resource not just for pregnant women but for friends and family who want to help someone they love affected by these unexpected but intense waves of emotion at a time when they were expected to be ‘blooming’.
The symptoms and causes of ante-natal depression are hard to define and can vary from person to person. You may have a history of a previous miscarriage, stillbirth or difficult labour or you may have not planned this pregnancy at all. The most important thing, once you have spoken to your midwife or doctor about how you feel, is to plan how you will look after yourself in the forthcoming days, weeks and months.
I often say to eager student midwives who contact me to learn more about this topic that relaxation techniques are one of the most effective ways of coping with stress, depression and anxiety whether you are pregnant or not. Knowing how to breathe, for example, as strange as it may sound, is key to managing tension which is starting to build.
When you are tense, your breathing can become shallow or you may even hold your breath for short periods without realising. Bringing your attention to a steady flow of breathing can bring calm back in to the moment whilst (without even realising it) giving you an effective skill to prepare you for labour.
Effective Breathing Techniques
Observing the flow of breathing is an ancient technique which has been the focal point of meditation for many years. Contrary to popular belief, meditation is not about sitting in an uncomfortable position whilst attempting to clear the mind. It is in fact a way of paying attention without tension. To do this, you could try the following:
- Switch off your mobile phone and ask not to be disturbed. You may wish to practice this breathing exercise with your midwife, friend or your labour partner.
- Sit comfortably upright in a chair with both feet on the floor. Rest your hands in your lap and tilt your head slightly forward.
- Try to breathe through your nose if possible, but not in deep breaths – just concentrate on the steady natural flow of your breathing. If you notice you are breathing very quickly, try to slow your breathing to a more natural and comfortable pace.
- Listen and pay attention to your breath (breathing naturally) for five minutes. Don’t worry if your mind wanders (this usually happens after about a minute) – just bring your attention back to your breath and continue the exercise as planned.
- When you have finished the exercise, sit quietly and bring your attention back to the environment around you.
You may wish to ask your doctor or midwife if they know of any other breathing techniques suitable for pregnancy or consider joining a pregnancy yoga class in your area.
If you find it difficult to manage five minutes to begin with, try just one minute and work your way up to five minutes from there. This is not failure, it is recognising a busy mind and taking positive action to calm it.
Enjoy your day.
The information provided in this article is open to individual interpretation and is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare team. Please speak to your doctor or midwife before deciding upon any form of action which may affect your pregnancy or if you have any concerns about your health and wellbeing. Depression-in-pregnancy.org is a resource provided by Delphi Ellis.