Pregnancy and mental health: How hormonal changes affect mental health (Part 4 of 4)
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Hormonal changes during pregnancy are necessary for a healthy mother and baby. However, the emotional and physical effects of these fluctuations can make it difficult to detect mental health issues in pregnant women. Better understanding surrounding pregnancy hormones and the various changes the body undergoes from conception to childbirth can aid the early detection and treatment of mental health disorders.

The primary pregnancy hormones are estrogen, progesterone, oxytocin, prolactin and endorphins. These hormones create an environment that promotes healthy fetal development while preparing the woman’s body for childbirth. The hormonal fluctuations common in pregnancy can make soon-to-be mothers experience intense mood swings, often making women feel out of control in light of the physical changes their bodies undergo at the same time. The United Kingdom’s National Childbirth Trust (NCT) reports that these feelings typically subside after the first trimester, when hormones stabilize.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, approximately 13 percent of pregnant women and those who have recently given birth grapple with clinical depression. Pregnant women with symptoms of clinical depression lasting more than two weeks, particularly feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and guilt, are advised to seek medical help to determine the cause. Those with a history of depression are more at risk for a relapse during pregnancy, though the mood disorder can also be triggered by stressful life events, chemical imbalances or a myriad of other causes.

There is a distinct difference between “the baby blues” and postpartum depression. Mental Health America notes that as many as 80 percent of new mothers have some form of the baby blues, characterized by mood swings, anxiety and crying episodes. These symptoms typically dissipate within two weeks after birth. Hormonal changes are believed to contribute to both the baby blues and postpartum depression in women since hormones return to their pre-pregnancy levels within 24 hours of childbirth. If the baby blues persist, it can be indicative of postpartum depression.

The onset of postpartum depression can occur any time up to one year following childbirth. Women with postpartum depression typically exhibit symptoms similar to the baby blues, with intrusive thoughts involving harm to themselves or their babies. Some with this form of depression show little interest in the child at all. These symptoms are highly manageable through psychotherapy and medication. Postpartum psychosis and birth-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are much less common than postpartum depression, though women with a history of mental illness or trauma are encouraged to take preventative measures to support their mental health during and after pregnancy.

If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues, help is available. Sovereign Health Group specializes in treating individuals facing mental health disorders, substance abuse issues and dual diagnosis. Call 866-629-0442 to speak with a professional today.

Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer

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