Pregnancy should be a time of happiness, serenity and ‘blossoming’ – or at least this is the commonly held expectation for the mum-to-be. And it is true that many women experience a heightened feeling of physical and emotional well being in pregnancy. However, when this is not the case, many pregnant women experience feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and worry. The belief that pregnancy hormones help the pregnant woman to be happy and insulated from the stresses and strains of life may also cause unrealistic expectations.
It is thus easy to forget that each woman has her own individual experience of pregnancy and that this can be affected by numerous factors, some to do with the constitutional make up of the person, others with their life circumstances.
There is no doubt that today in Britain better attention is given to the various parameters of physical health of the mother-to-be, and rightly so. There is better understanding of the importance of good, well-balanced nutrition pre- and post-conception, as well as of rest and relaxation, exercise and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. But what about mental and emotional wellbeing? In my homeopathic practice I sometimes get a sense that there is still not enough awareness of this important aspect of health. And yet it can have a major impact on the overall health not just of the mother, but also on the harmonious development of the foetus, as well as the physical and mental health of the future child.
The evidence found in the vast body of the research of the last decade is unambiguous: “anxiety, depression, and stress in pregnancy are risk factors for adverse outcomes for mothers and children” (1). Other studies have shown that there is an association between the mental health problems in pregnancy and behaviour problems of children as young as 4 years old (2).
This is also my clinical experience when I see young children with behaviour problems such as hyperactivity, severe temper tantrums, and other types of challenging behaviour. As in all my consultations, I ask about the full medical history of the little patient, as well as the medical history of the parents, including the state of health of the mother pre- and post conception. It is not unusual to hear that the mother had suffered from depression or anxiety during pregnancy. In such cases I cannot help but wish that more awareness, as well specific help and support were available to treat the mental-emotional problems of the mother in pregnancy, and thus perhaps prevent future problems.
The triggers to mental health problems in the pregnant woman can be many: a stressful life event, such as moving house, losing a job, bereavement or relationship difficulties, physical or mental abuse, an overload of work and home responsibilities. Physical factors such as the impact of hormonal changes, severe morning sickness, heartburn, backache, sleep disturbances, etc. can also take an emotional toll. One may have a history of depression or anxiety due to a hereditary predisposition, or unresolved trauma earlier in life.
The most common symptoms of depression are: constant and extreme fatigue; sleep problems; disturbed appetite (eating too much or too little), feeling anxious, restless or losing temper easily; a constant negative state of mind, an inability to enjoy anything; feeling helpless and tearful, low mood and low energy. These will vary in intensity and manifestation in different individuals, as one’s experience of depression is never identical to another’s. However, it can only make sense that symptoms such as low energy, eating disturbances and lack of proper sleep and rest can affect the development of the baby in the womb.
Because of the risk to both mother and child, I believe that a pregnant woman experiencing depression or anxiety should seek help as soon as possible. Talking about these feelings with a trusted friend or relative, regular exercise and de-stressing activities such as walks in nature and meditation can sometimes be useful self-help measures.
Depending on the severity of the problem professional treatment may be needed. In the field of conventional medicine, the main option of treatment is with anti-depressants. The NHS recommendation, however, is to avoid the use of anti-depressants in pregnancy due to increased risk of spontaneous abortion, congenital defects, and pulmonary hypertension (a disease which causes heart failure) in the newborn (3). Other studies have shown that the use of anti-depressants in pregnancy is associated with low birth weight and a predisposition to psychological problems in later life (4), (5), (6). Furthermore, recent studies have indicated an association between anti-depressants in pregnancy and an increased risk of autism in children (7).
Among other forms of professional help, holistic medical systems such as traditional Chinese acupuncture and homeopathy have much to offer. Counselling and psychotherapy are, of course, an obvious option.
Homeopathy is a safe option for those seeking a deep acting approach, which addresses simultaneously both emotional health and physical issues through constitutional treatment aimed at the whole person.
Homeopathic remedies have the added advantage of being free of toxicity because they are very highly diluted natural medicinal substances such as plants and minerals. Their action is gentle and subtle, stimulating the self-healing capacity of the body, and enabling its regenerative powers to function optimally. There is also the benefit of a consultation which offers a safe space for the patient to talk freely about the emotional aspects of their health, to be listened to with respect and empathy, as well as to receive a treatment which is completely individualised and adjusted to their specific health needs.
By Aurora Yaacov, MARH, RHom, Classical Homeopath.
She practices at Shine, Church Street.
(1) http://journals.lww.com/co-psychiatry/Abstract/2012/03000/Anxiety,_depression_and_stress_in_pregnancy__.13.aspx – A review of the latest research which concludes that anxiety, depression, and stress in pregnancy are risk factors for adverse outcomes for mothers and children.
Maternal antenatal anxiety and children’s behavioural/emotional problems at 4 years: Report from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. It concludes that there could be a direct effect of maternal mood on foetal brain development, which affects the behavioural development of the child.
Neonatal outcomes after prenatal exposure to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants and maternal depression using population-based linked health data.
Effects of timing and duration of gestational exposure to serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants: population-based study
Parental depression, maternal antidepressant use during pregnancy, and risk of autism spectrum disorders: population based case-control study