The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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In our previous issue, the first installment of this three-part series took you on a head-to-toe tour of the pregnant woman’s body. Here, we provide insight into your evolving emotions, relationships and identity. If you’re wondering why you’re thinking and feeling the way you are, you’ll find all the mysteries revealed here.
Out With Your Old Life, in With the New
When you’re pregnant, you’re apt to feel happy, sad, hopeful, sentimental, depressed, joyful, guilty, excited, resentful, ecstatic, doubtful, confused, confident, anxious, blissful and fearful. All within the space of about five minutes.
It’s perfectly normal for a pregnant woman to be on cloud nine one minute and in tears the next. “You move from one feeling to the other very rapidly as your life changes irrevocably,” says Diana Dell, M.D., director of the maternal wellness program at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., and assistant professor in the departments of psychiatry and OB-GYN.
Indeed, a lot happens between that positive pregnancy test and the birth of a child. “Numerous profound and life-changing transformations go on during pregnancy,” says Ellen Sue Stern, author of Expecting Change: There’s More to Pregnancy Than Having a Baby (Meadowbrook Press, May 2004). The relationship between you and your husband or partner can change as your priorities shift and you make space in your lives for another person. You also begin the emotional separation from your free-and-easy childless life, your body changes drastically, you face career decisions, and you may wonder about what kinds of parents you and your partner will be.
Shifting priorities can cause stress. A woman who likes to travel, dine at upscale restaurants and devote long hours to her career may begin to realize that where and how she spends her time and money will have to change after she gives birth.
When Depression Darkens A Pregnancy
We often think of pregnancy as a joyful time, but for some women it is just the opposite. “Pregnancy doesn’t protect against depression,” says psychiatrist and obstetrician Diana Dell, M.D.
In fact, as many as 20 percent of pregnant women experience symptoms of depression. But few get help for it, according to a study conducted at the University of Michigan Depression Center in Ann Arbor. “Doctors used to think of pregnancy as a honeymoon away from the risk of depression, but this is turning out to be a myth,” says study co-author Sheila Marcus, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the university’s medical school. Prenatal depression is more likely to strike if a woman has a history of depression, if her pregnancy was unplanned or mistimed, if she is having marital problems or if she is suffering from medical complications. “We see a lot of women who are on bed rest
It’s crucial that pregnant women who are suffering from depression be treated: Research shows that women who are depressed during pregnancy have a higher risk of postpartum depression. Furthermore, their babies aren’t as healthy as other infants. Depression can be treated with psychotherapy, medication or both. Dell points out that certain antidepressant drugs appear safe to use during pregnancy. Some mood stabilizers are associated with birth defects, however, so be sure to tell your doctor that you’re pregnant before she prescribes any medication.