Pregnancy can take a toll on your body, from physical changes to morning sickness, and everything in between. Though not always discussed, pregnancy can also affect your mental health. Studies have shown that roughly 10% of pregnant individuals face mental health challenges, the majority of those experiencing depression and anxiety. (4)(11)
Though mental health during pregnancy can be a struggle, there are dietary changes and lifestyle changes that can have a positive impact. As more research is being done to examine the link between gestational (duration of pregnancy) mental health and a positive outcome for both parent and baby, the more we are learning about ways to support pregnant individuals during this time of life. As these cases of depression and anxiety during pregnancy can be more than just pregnancy mood swings, it’s important to know how pregnancy affects mental health and how you can support yourself or your loved ones who are pregnant!
How pregnancy affects mental health
Though many pregnant individuals feel overwhelmed or sad during their pregnancy, research shows that for some women, these feelings and emotions can be serious and have long-lasting effects. (4) Studies have shown that depression and anxiety impact one in every ten expectant mothers, due to factors such as stress and hormonal changes, making this one of the leading mental health problems that can come from pregnancy. (4)
Risk factors for mental health problems during pregnancy
Though depression and anxiety are also mental health concerns in the general population, research shows that these are some common risk factors that can increase the likelihood of experiencing depression or anxiety during pregnancy.
- Age of the pregnant individual
- Being pregnant with multiple babies
- Family history or personal history of anxiety or depression, including experiencing the conditions during previous pregnancies or during other times of your life
- Financial and relationship problems
- Lack of support from family and friends
- Level of education
- Previous challenging pregnancies (4)(14)
Impact of stress during pregnancy on infants
Though not well known, stress and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can not only have negative effects on the pregnant individual but the unborn baby as well. When individuals are experiencing depression, anxiety, and stress during pregnancy, this can impact their ability to bond with their child. (4)
Additionally, research has shown that maternal mental health during pregnancy could impact infant mental and physical health. (1)(8) Specifically, an Iranian study found that maternal mental health disorders during pregnancy can negatively impact a child’s weight and height within the first six month of their life. (1)
However, positive maternal mental health during pregnancy can reduce the chances of the infant developing behavioral and mental issues in childhood. (8)
Diet and supplementation for mental health in pregnancy
It’s no surprise that our diet has an impact on our bodies and our mental health, and the same is true for when you are pregnant. Recent studies show that eating a healthy, balanced diet, including foods low in sugar, can have a positive impact on both mom and baby. (3) As it may be hard for some pregnant individuals to get all the nutrients they need from food, supplements can help fill nutritional gaps. (3)
Along with a general healthy and balanced diet, when it comes to mental health, including additional fiber, magnesium, and certain B vitamins can support pregnant individuals. (19)
Known for its ability to reduce constipation, a common concern during pregnancy, fiber may also have other benefits for the pregnant body. (17) Studies have shown that increasing foods high in fiber can have a positive impact on your gut microbiome leading to improved mental health. When we have a greater diversity of gut microbiome, this allows our body to produce short-chain fatty acids which have been shown to reduce inflammation. As depression has been thought to be linked to inflammation in the body, including fiber into your diet could support your mental health during pregnancy. (19)
Recent studies have shown that magnesium intake during pregnancy can impact the unborn baby well into childhood and adulthood. Research shows that magnesium has the potential to influence your babies development during pregnancy and increase disease prevention later in life (such as a diabetes. (6)
In addition,magnesium has also been shown to have a positive impact on maternal anxiety and depression during pregnancy. (19) A study has shown that magnesium plays a major role in our central nervous system, and that a deficiency in magnesium can lead to inflammation potentially causing depression. (12)
Did you know? Our central nervous system is our brain and our spinal cord. (18)
3. B vitamins and Folate
Along with fiber and magnesium, an array of B vitamins have been shown to have a positive impact on maternal mental health. (19) Insufficient B vitamins have been associated with decreased brain health and memory issues. Specifically, deficiencies in vitamins B1, 3, 6, 9, and 12 have been linked to depression. For these reasons, including these B vitamins into prenatal care could help support maternal mental health during pregnancy. (9)
Commonly recommended during pregnancy to promote healthy neural tube development for infants, early research has also shown an association between folate (vitamin B9) levels in the body and depression. In recent studies, folate has also been shown to support individuals up to 21 weeks postpartum. So including this nutrient is not only good for your baby, but also for your mental health after birth! (2)(10)
Lifestyle habits to support mental health during pregnancy
Pregnancy can be a challenging time for many individuals. Taking care of yourself and reaching out to others has been shown to have a positive impact on mental health. Doing calming and relaxing activities, engaging in talk therapy, and listening to music may have beneficial effects on mental health. (4)(7)
Yoga, meditation, and exercise
Many individuals find that doing calming activities such as yoga, exercise, and meditation have supported their mental health during pregnancy. (7) Exercise and yoga have been shown to be some of the most helpful integrative strategies to support depression, while the effects of meditation may last for months after engaging in the activity. (15) Note that when engaging in any activities such as exercise or yoga while pregnant, you should always check with your health care practitioner to ensure it is the right practice for you!
Along with engaging in calming activities, making time for yourselves by doing hobbies or activities you love to do can support your mental health. (4)
Therapy is commonly used to provide emotional support to individuals dealing with anxiety and depression, including anxiety and depression during pregnancy. (16) Though there has been limited research that shows that talk therapy has a positive impact on pregnant individuals, there is an association between speaking with a therapist during pregnancy and a better mental health. (16)
Simply speaking with a family member, a friend, or a leader within their faith or community may have a positive impact on a person’s mental health during pregnancy and into the postpartum period. (16)
Numerous studies and research have linked listening to music with a positive and healthy mental health during pregnancy and into the postpartum period (period after giving birth). As music is a safe option for support, there is no downside in listening to some tunes. (13) Listening to music can have positive effects on maternal mental health during pregnancy and into the first few months of postpartum. (5)
The bottom line
The impact of pregnancy doesn’t stop with the physical changes we see in our bodies. In fact, it goes a lot deeper than that. Pregnancy mood swings or “baby blues” are common, but more severe symptoms may be a sign of maternal depression or anxiety. As depression and anxiety have been shown to impact many pregnant individuals, it is important to learn ways to support yourself or loved ones through this time. Taking the time to support your mental health with diet, supplementation, exercise, and therapy can have a long-lasting impact on mother and baby!
- Ahmadi Gharaei, H., Nematollahi, S., Moameri, H., Madani, A., Parsaeian, M., & Holakouie-Naieni, K. (2020). Effect of maternal mental health during pregnancy on infant growth at six months of age in Suburban communities in South of Iran. Medical journal of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 34, 157.
- Bender, A., Hagan, K. E., & Kingston, N. (2017). The association of folate and depression: A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 95, 9–18.
- Dubois, L., Diasparra, M., Bédard, B., Colapinto, C. K., Fontaine-Bisson, B., Morisset, A. S., Tremblay, R. E., & Fraser, W. D. (2017). Adequacy of nutritional intake from food and supplements in a cohort of pregnant women in Québec, Canada: the 3D Cohort Study (Design, Develop, Discover). The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 106(2), 541–548.
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2022, February 6). Moms-to-be and Moms. National Institutes of Health. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/ncmhep/initiatives/moms-mental-health-matters/moms#
- Fancourt, D., & Perkins, R. (2018). Could listening to music during pregnancy be protective against postnatal depression and poor wellbeing post birth? Longitudinal associations from a preliminary prospective cohort study. BMJ Open, 8(7), e021251.
- Fanni, D., Gerosa, C., Nurchi, V. M., Manchia, M., Saba, L., Coghe, F., Crisponi, G., Gibo, Y., Van Eyken, P., Fanos, V., & Faa, G. (2020). The Role of Magnesium in Pregnancy and in Fetal Programming of Adult Diseases. Biological Trace Element Research.
- Kołomańska, D., Zarawski, M., & Mazur-Bialy, A. (2019, May 26). Physical Activity and Depressive Disorders in Pregnant Women—A Systematic Review. Medicina, 55(5), 212.
- Lähdepuro, A., Lahti‐Pulkkinen, M., Pyhälä, R., Tuovinen, S., Lahti, J., Heinonen, K., Laivuori, H., Villa, P. M., Reynolds, R. M., Kajantie, E., Girchenko, P., & Räikkönen, K. (2022). Positive maternal mental health during pregnancy and mental and behavioral disorders in children: A prospective pregnancy cohort study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
- Mikkelsen, K., Stojanovska, L., & Apostolopoulos, V. (2016). The Effects of Vitamin B in Depression. Current Medicinal Chemistry, 23(38), 4317–4337.
- MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health. (2015, August 12). Folic Acid and Risk of Perinatal Depression: Is There an Association? Retrieved October 14, 2022, from https://womensmentalhealth.org/posts/folic-acid-and-risk-of-perinatal-depression-is-there-an-association/
- Montagnoli, C., Zanconato, G., Cinelli, G., Tozzi, A. E., Bovo, C., Bortolus, R., & Ruggeri, S. (2020). Maternal mental health and reproductive outcomes: a scoping review of the current literature. Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics, 302(4), 801–819.
- Nechifor, M. (2009). Magnesium in major depression. Magnesium research, 22(3), 163-166.
- Perkovic, R., Tustonja, M., Devic, K., & Kristo, B. (2021). Music Therapy and Mental Health in Pregnancy. Psychiatria Danubina, 33(Suppl 4), 786–789.
- Rezaee, R., & Framarzi, M. (2014). Predictors of mental health during pregnancy. Iranian journal of nursing and midwifery research, 19(7 Suppl 1), S45–S50.
- Saeed, S. A., Cunningham, K., & Bloch, R. M. (2019). Depression and Anxiety Disorders: Benefits of Exercise, Yoga, and Meditation. American family physician, 99(10), 620–627. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31083878/
- Taking Care of Your Mental Health During Pregnancy (for Parents) – Nemours KidsHealth. (2017). KidsHealth. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/pregnant-mental-health.html
- Trottier, M., Erebara, A., & Bozzo, P. (2012). Treating constipation during pregnancy. Canadian family physician Médecin de famille canadien, 58(8), 836–838.
- What Do the Different Parts of The Nervous System Do? (2020, August 16). Regional Neurological Associates. Retrieved October 14, 2022, from https://www.regionalneurological.com/parts-of-the-nervous-system/
- Yelverton, C. A., Rafferty, A. A., Moore, R. L., Byrne, D. F., Mehegan, J., Cotter, P. D., Van Sinderen, D., Murphy, E. F., Killeen, S. L., & McAuliffe, F. M. (2022). Diet and mental health in pregnancy: Nutrients of importance based on large observational cohort data. Nutrition, 96, 111582.