- New research shows that women with hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) — severe morning sickness — are more likely to experience depression during and after pregnancy.
- For morning sickness or depression, early intervention can help women cope.
- Partners of pregnant women can help by keeping tabs on their partner’s well-being and encouraging open communication.
Morning sickness and depression — both during and after pregnancy — are familiar ailments for many women who’ve had children.
Now, a new study concludes that severe morning sickness is directly related to depression.
Researchers from Imperial College London reported that women with hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) — a severe form of nausea in the early stages of pregnancy — are more likely to experience depression during and after pregnancy.
Between 0.5 and 2 percent of pregnant women experience HG.
In a clinical trial of more than 200 women, researchers found that those who showed signs of HG — about half of the participants — were more likely to be depressed.
About half of this cohort experienced depression during pregnancy, while 29 percent experienced it after pregnancy.
Among those who didn’t show signs of HG, only 6 percent were depressed during pregnancy, while 7 percent were depressed after pregnancy.
“Our study shows that women with HG are around eight times more likely to suffer antenatal depression and four times more likely to have postnatal depression,” Dr. Nicola Mitchell-Jones, a specialist registrar in OB-GYN at Imperial College and study lead author, said in a release.
Two experts interviewed by Healthline say the results are not particularly surprising and that the study underlines the need for pregnant women and people in their support system to keep tabs on their mental health.
Dr. Melissa Goist, an assistant professor of OB-GYN at the Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, told Healthline that most pregnant women experience some form of morning sickness, which can actually occur anytime during the day or night, while a smaller subset experiences HG.
She also noted that depression is not unusual.
“Depression is quite common, affecting 15 to 25 percent of women during either pregnancy or the post-delivery time period,” she said. “The percentage is broad due to the difficulty in making the diagnosis, as many women try to hide these feelings, worried they may be looked at differently.”
A woman’s experience during pregnancy can often carry over into the post-delivery period, says Dr. Jennifer Wu, an OB-GYN at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
“I think a hard pregnancy can result in a harder entry into motherhood. Some women sail through pregnancy easily and they are well-rested and slept well, then they have a newborn and cope really well with it,” Wu told Healthline. “But if you’ve had severe hyperemesis and had a difficult pregnancy, then you can start motherhood feeling overwhelmed.”
Depression is often stigmatized and hidden, which can compound problems down the line.
Wu says that long-term results can be improved with early intervention.
“If we can foresee problems for the mother or the baby, and try to get on them early, I think the results are always much better,” she explained. “For something like postpartum depression, if you have an indication that the mom will be at increased risk, and you get her counseling and therapy and possibly medication very early on in the process, it’ll be a much milder course of postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is one of those things that, if left untreated, can get really bad.”
Pregnant women and their partners, friends, or others in their support system, should recognize the signs of depression. Wu notes that it may take the form of mild sadness or might manifest itself in days of crying.
Open communication with a doctor, followed by an appointment with a therapist, is a way to get a handle on depression — during or after pregnancy. From there, it can be determined what the next steps could be.
“Sometimes, therapy is all that’s needed,” said Wu. “But a small percentage of patients will need actual medication for depression, so they may see a psychiatrist who could prescribe the right medication for them and follow their medication dosages.”
As with everything else related to pregnancy, it’s critical to keep your doctor in the loop, says Wu.
“Many women, when they get pregnant, expect to have morning sickness,” she said. “They really should let their doctor know how they’re feeling and what’s going on because sometimes we have patients who’ve been having very bad hyperemesis, and they call us when things are really dire — like they haven’t kept food or water down for half a day. At that point, we have to hospitalize them, because they are in a very bad situation.”
A critical ingredient in helping women through difficult pregnancies is a support system — whether it’s a partner, friend, parents, or other family members.
Goist says it can be helpful for pregnant women to simply communicate how they’re feeling to their partner.
“I think partners just need to be open to listening to concerns, helping in whatever way needed. This is going to be very individualized based on maternal needs,” she said. “Allow the mother to feel supported with her time, giving her time to take care of herself — for exercise, a massage, or mediation — without the guilt that comes with taking time out for herself.”
“Pregnancy is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ condition, and listening to the mother express their concerns and/or problems can significantly benefit her well-being,” Goist said.