Navigating Loneliness: Coping With Feelings of Isolation During Pregnancy

Navigating Loneliness: Coping With Feelings of Isolation During Pregnancy

What Does Feeling Alone During Pregnancy Look Like?

Pregnancy is a major event that drastically changes a woman's life, however, many women find themselves unprepared for the magnitude of it and may experience depression. Many are familiar with the risk of postpartum or postnatal depression and more and more women are coming forward with their experiences dealing with it. However, while postpartum depression seems to be entering mainstream discourse, it seems that there is very little discussion over prenatal or perinatal depression.

For some mothers, feelings of loneliness may be brief, a phenomenon commonly referred to as the "baby blues." Unfortunately, other moms may find that their feelings of loneliness turn into a chronic issue that develops into prenatal depression. Feelings of anxiety, emptiness, and apathy toward things previously enjoyed are all common experiences for those with this diagnosis. According to a recent study reviewing loneliness of parents with children aged 5 years or younger estimated that "Loneliness among pregnant women and mothers in general ranged from 32 to 42%."

What Role Does Mental Health Play in Pregnant Women?

Good mental health is integral to the overall health of both a pregnant woman and her unborn child. According to medical psychologist Catherine Monk, women dealing with stress and anxiety during pregnancy leads to a higher risk of their offspring developing conditions like ADHD and depression, among others. This is why it's essential for both the healthcare provider and close family members alike to carefully observe the mental health behaviors of pregnant women. One of the number one factors determining if a pregnant woman will feel isolated or not is if they have a solid support system around them.

The sheer amount of pregnancy hormones that occur during pregnancy also have the potential to exacerbate preexisting mental health conditions. Mothers with untreated depression or other mood disorders may inadvertently harm the new baby before it even arrives, as they can't support or prioritize their own mental health. Mothers who aren't getting the strong support system needed for dealing with their conditions may self treat using different drugs or alcohol, which could significantly harm the growing fetus.

What Causes Pregnancy Loneliness?

During pregnancy, feeling lonely is extremely common. While having a first child can be an exciting time for new parents, it's associated with a number of major life changes. Daily and long term activities are impacted and perhaps even an impossible task, even with a completely healthy pregnancy, which causes feelings of disconnect to one's normal self. The excitement from friends and family who were initially present and always asking about the experience dwindles over time. People who at first offered their services for help are now busy with their own lives, to no fault of their own. Additionally, there is a significant decrease in the amount that you can spend time with others and fully participate in friends' social gatherings. This disconnect from the life of one's usual self may lead to mixed feelings toward the baby, which often causes the mother to feel guilty. Many pregnant women may feel envy toward others while they have to deal with the side effects and responsibilities of pregnancy alone. These common feelings are often worsened when the woman has an unsupportive or absent partner, causing them to feel even more alone during pregnancy.

The way pregnancy affects sleep quality is another major contributor that makes women feel lonely during pregnancy. The large amount of pregnancy hormones makes sleep increasingly difficult at any stage of pregnancy. According to the National Institute of Health, "Oxytocin, the hormone responsible for uterine contractions, peaks at night and may cause sleep fragmentation in late pregnancy." Furthermore, for those with preexisting sleep conditions such as sleep apnea (OSA) and restless leg syndrome (RLS), these problems may worsen even more. Aside from hormonal factors, general physical discomfort lessens the amount and quality of sleep before the baby arrives as well. Morning sickness, a completely normal side effect of pregnancy, may also drastically interfere with sleep. These different factors occurring all while the stomach is continuously growing can make it extremely hard to get comfortable enough to sleep, especially during the second and third trimesters.

How to Find Support for Pregnancy Loneliness.

Luckily there are many ways for women to find support for pregnancy loneliness. Some pregnant women may prefer to simply communicate their feelings to their partner, family and friends, or doctor - while other pregnant women may find that Facebook groups and other online resources are sufficient. One of the biggest online resources available for those feeling lonely during pregnancy is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA. SAMHSA is a national helpline for individuals and families who are facing mental illness and substance abuse disorders. They aim to both break down the invisible wall pregnant women face and help them feel supported if they are struggling with depression during pregnancy. The helpline is both free and confidential, available to those who need it all hours of the day and all days of the year. This helpline can aid those who feel lonely and are pregnant in finding local treatment facilities, support groups, and community based organizations near them. The SAMHSA website even has an online treatment locator that can find local mental health services by simply using one's zipcode. Worrying over expenses is not necessary as referrals are completely free and do not require insurance. The organization can also refer those who need it to facilities that charge on a sliding fee scale, as well as those who accept Medicare and Medicaid.

Call: 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for English and Spanish services

Message: 435748 (HELP4U) for English only service

Visit their website:>

What’s the Difference Between Loneliness and Depression.

Depression is extremely common and women are nearly twice as likely to suffer from a depressive disorder than men are. While there is no doubt of the similarities between those who've experienced loneliness during pregnancy and those who've experienced depression during pregnancy, the two are not the same. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two is that one is simply a feeling, albeit not a great one - while the other is a serious mental condition. While one may be experiencing common depressive symptoms that doesn't necessarily mean they are experiencing pregnancy depression. To be diagnosed with a clinical depressive disorder, one's symptoms must be in accordance with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, frequently referred to as the DSM. A person must present with five or more depressive symptoms for a two week period, with at least one of the symptoms being a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in daily life.

Another mental condition to be aware of that many women struggle with during pregnancy is anxiety, which can lead to loneliness and even suicidal thoughts. Anxiety can lead to these extreme feelings as a common side effect of the condition is overthinking. Some other examples of common anxieties during pregnancy may include:

  • Feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge frequently
  • Worrying excessively about things, especially your health or your baby
  • Finding it difficult or impossible to relax

What Are the Symptoms of Prenatal Depression?

Feeling lonely during pregnancy is often linked to prenatal depression and while the two are separate conditions, they often go hand in hand. Some common symptoms of prenatal depression include:

  • Excessive anxiety, worrying, and irrational thoughts
  • Decreased interest or pleasure in activities previously enjoyed
  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, numbness, emptiness, or guilt
  • Social withdrawal from friends, family, and colleagues
  • Physical symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, and gastrointestinal problems

What Causes Prenatal Depression?

  • Hormonal changes
  • Changing schedules and daily life
  • Lack of sleep
  • Lack of support network
  • Physical and emotional demands of childbearing
  • Genetic risk factors

What Are the Risks of Not Treating Prenatal Depression?

Untreated depression during pregnancy can have a devastating impact on both the women's health and the baby's. Many of those with prenatal depression may experience depressive symptoms such as: not gaining enough weight to provide adequate nutrition for the baby, missing prenatal visits, and even premature birth or a baby with low birth weight. Even more eye-opening is the fact that "Depression during pregnancy may be the strongest predictor for later suffering from PPD (postpartum depression).", according to the MGH Center for Women's Health.

What Are Common Treatments for Prenatal Depression?

Once diagnosed with prenatal depression you may be referred to a mental health professional such as a psychologist or therapist. Pregnancy makes treatment options for prenatal depression a little different than how general depression is treated in other women. Depression is typically treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medication. For moms to be, discussing medication will need to be a conversation with both doctor and mother. This conversation is needed to weigh the potential risks to the baby as well as the benefits to the women's health when considering medication and antidepressants. Aside from medication, many practical activities can be utilized to help depressive symptoms. Some of these activities include:

  • Spending time outdoors
  • Having a regular exercise routine or going to the gym
  • Journaling activities
  • Meditation and/or yoga
  • Light therapy

Where to Get Help for Prenatal Depression.

  • Community support groups
  • Healthcare provider team
  • Close friends and family members

What Is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression is serious and often mistaken for less serious "baby blues." Depressive symptoms for postpartum include:

  • Difficulty bonding with the new baby
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
  • Intense irritability and anger
  • Hopelessness
  • Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, or inadequacy

How Is Postpartum Depression Different That Prenatal Depression?

The biggest difference between the two is that postpartum depression refers to depression after pregnancy, while prenatal refers to depression during pregnancy. There is also a greater level of anxiety in postpartum than typically seen in those with prenatal depression. While some of the same feelings are present, those experiencing depression after birth struggle less with feeling isolated, and more with incessant worries of accidentally harming their newborn.

What Are the Risks of Not Treating Postpartum Depression?

If postpartum depression goes untreated, it can severely interfere with a mother's ability to bond with her child and vice versa. Even more seriously, it can lead to a mother significantly harming herself or her baby.

What Are Common Treatments for Postpartum Depression?

Those diagnosed will typically be referred to a psychotherapist for therapy, where they will typically go through cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or interpersonal psychotherapy. There are many different prescriptions available for those struggling with postnatal depression, a few of the most common are:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • Wellbutrin (Bupropion)
  • Zulresso
  • Nortriptyline

Where to Get Help for Postpartum Depression?

  • Community support groups
  • Medical team
  • Close friends and family members
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