Prenatal Depression: How It Affects The Unborn Child

People often talk about the severities of Postpartum depression after pregnancy, but what about the Prenatal depression that happens during the actual pregnancy itself? Allow me to briefly introduce myself; My name is Amanda, and I am currently writing this blog as a first-time Mama in her third trimester. I like to think of myself as an emotionally-intelligent individual. I am very self-aware and can usually challenge or recreate my own thoughts using learned cognitive behavioral techniques. Want to hear the irony in all this? All that emotional intelligent stuff kind of jumped out of the window once I got pregnant. I realized I started going down this deep dark rabbit hole when my mind and time was being consumed with conflicting thoughts like:  

  • I am alone everyday for 15 hrs a day!
  • I have no car to get around!
  • I am lonely!
  • I am broke, I can’t even contribute to groceries!
  • Why am I so tired all the time? I don’t even do anything. I am so lazy and should be doing more!
  • I feel so fat and ugly!
  • Why is my belly bigger than other pregnant mothers?

My higher self would of course show self-compassion and remind me that I am growing a baby which can be overly exhausting. I have a loving and supportive partner who works hard to keep us afloat and is happy to share his car with me. My body is growing through so many changes to accommodate a little miracle growing inside me and I have a business to go back to once I am ready. I have much to be grateful for.

But why is it so easy to become consumed with depression if I am so emotionally intelligent?

It seems almost uncontrollable. I start to question if my depression stems from myself, my situations, or my hormones. Even being self-aware wasn’t enough to figure it out. It wasn’t until a much-needed acupuncture session when I began to dive deeper into Prenatal depression and its effects on babies. I was told by the acupuncturist that the energy in my kidneys were deficient. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, each organ is affiliated with an emotion, and my emotions were interfering with my organ’s QI (energy). I was told that my baby will grab her energy from my strongest organs, but if my organs are weak then it will affect her. He explained a weak left kidney means a fearful baby and a weak right kidney means a baby with a weak immune system. I realized then that my stress and anxieties were affecting my unborn baby. But I needed to know more about the neurological aspect of this maternal depression and its effects on my unborn baby, so I researched. Here is what I discovered.

What is happening inside the body of a Depressed Pregnant Mama?

  • Increased hormones creating an imbalance
  • Prenatal stress that ranges from Severe (trauma) to Moderate (life event changes) to Minimal (daily hassles)
  • Increased inflammatory cytokines (proteins that control the growth and activity of other immune system cells and blood cells), and stimulated lymphocyte cells (white blood cells that protect against pathogens)
  • Reduced gray matter (the processing units of sensory function).
  • Poor nutrition
  • Hypertension
  • Lack of sleep
  • Dehydration
  • And many more

How does this effect the unborn baby?

  • Increased fetal heart rate
  • Structural brain abnormalities and potential developmental disorders such as: schizophrenia, autism, ADHD, reduced cognitive ability and developmental delay, partial epilepsy, and long-term mental illness
  • Neuronal Migration Disorder- group of birth defects caused by the abnormal migration of neurons in the developing brain and nervous system.
  • Affected fetal sleep pattern and movement
  • Negative interaction between mother and infant and/or affect the quality of postnatal care
  • Restricted fetal growth and/or low infant birth weight
  • Preterm labor or delivery
  • Allergies/Asthma

Of course, my first thought is, Oh no, I have already ruined my child’s life and I haven’t even met her yet! But the truth is that there are things in life we cannot control, and during pregnancy, hormones are often one of them. I take comfort in knowing that I can still influence the outcome. It is better to be aware and ahead of the situation than to be oblivious. After researching and learning this new information, I allow myself the compassion to feel sad, but I do not soak in my misery because I know that it is stemming from the pregnancy changes. I can create a positive pregnancy experience for myself by self-educating, using positive affirmations, discovering fun ways to make nutritional foods, venting my worries to my support groups, and finding positive activities to fill my soul up. I just needed to take ‘baby steps’ to put these life-affirming activities in place and get my power back. The power for both me and my baby.

I hope this information finds use in another Mama dealing with the anxieties that come along with pregnancy. May she find comfort in knowing these emotions are natural and common and there are many solutions for relieving and managing her depression. In the end of this journey, awaits a new beginning.


Article Impact of Maternal Stress, Depression & Anxiety on Fetal Neurobehavioral Development by Michael T. Kinsella and Catherine Monk

Article Maternal Mental Health in Pregnancy and Child Behavior by Veena A. Satyanarayana, Ammu Lukose, & K. Srinivasan



Amanda Cuevas is a licensed Massage Therapist who started her journey helping people through body work. She is currently pursuing her Integrative Mental Health Coach Training Certification and looks forward to providing an alternative to manual therapy.

Instagram: @dualistic_therapy

Facebook: @dualistictherapy


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