Is there anything I can do to help my expectant wife deal with the severe mood swings she's been experiencing? She's about three-quarters of the way through her pregnancy, and lately she's been terribly depressed. It's beginning to take a real toll on our relationship. I've heard a lot about post-partum depression, but is it normal for a woman to be feeling blue before the arrival of a baby?
There's nothing abnormal about feeling low during a pregnancy. As you may know, a woman's hormones take a roller coaster ride both during pregnancy and after delivery. It's these hormonal changes that can cause a temporary emotional slump popularly known as "baby blues" (which affects between 50 and 80 percent of new moms) as well as a more severe disturbance known as postpartum depression. It only stands to reason that the same hormonal shifts should have the potential to cause similar mood swings before the baby arrives.
Naturally, we can't make any definite statements about your case without knowing a great deal more about you, your wife and your marriage. But we are a bit concerned about the negative impact her condition seems to be having on your relationship. We can't help wondering whether her feelings of sadness might have a non-hormonal origin. It's possible that they could be more situational in nature. We'd encourage you to sit down with her and initiate a frank and open discussion of your current circumstances. Is there something besides the pregnancy going on in your lives that may be causing the dip in your wife's emotions? Has your relationship been strong and healthy up to this point, or have you had a history of chronic conflict? Are you supportive and available when she needs your help? Is she under stress from some other source? If she's currently working, is she feeling sad about quitting and losing close relationships with co-workers after the baby is born? Sadness caused by these types of stresses may indeed be "normal" and not related to clinical depression, but feelings of sadness that are disruptive and last longer than a couple of weeks may be a sign of clinical depression. The possibility of clinical depression is especially important to consider if your wife has a personal or family history or depression.
Once you've taken some time to sort through these questions, encourage your wife to make an appointment with a psychiatrist or her OB/GYN for the specific purpose of exploring the source of her depression. The doctor can discuss the various treatment options with her. If her depression is as severe as you've indicated, he or she may want to prescribe an anti-depressant medication. Anti-depressants are generally quite safe, but there are risks to taking any type of medication during pregnancy. Your physician will know best how to proceed in your wife's case.
Another option would be a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in something called cognitive-behavioral therapy. This form of counseling has been shown to be effective in treating depression without medication for some women. We would strongly urge that you and your wife speak with a counselor together. To find out more, feel free to contact Focus on the Family's Counseling department. Our staff would be more than happy to speak with you or your wife over the phone.
In the meantime, there are several practical ways you can come alongside your wife during this difficult time in her life. When you get home from work, be sensitive enough to put her concerns ahead of your own. Take time to talk with her. Ask her what her day was like and find out how she's feeling. If you have children, take assume an active role in seeing to their needs and getting them ready for bed. Maintain the habit of a regular date night – a meal, a concert, a walk, whatever your imagination and budget can manage – in which the focus is conversation and companionship. If your hours at work seem to be getting longer, stop and take an honest look at your attitude. Are you listening to the siren song that says your career is more fulfilling than your life at home? If so, find some practical ways to change directions – fast.
Coping With Your Spouse's Depression: Barb Rosberg offers encouraging advice for those who struggling with the effects of their spouse's depression.
Mental Health (resource list)