Having a baby and becoming a parent is one of the most life-changing events we can experience. One in five women will experience a mental health problem during pregnancy or in the year after giving birth. This may be a new mental health problem or another episode of a mental health problem you’ve experienced before.
Our teams of specialist mental health midwives help hundreds of women and families each year to get the support they need.
This video from Perinatal Positivity brings together real-life stories to show that mental health problems in pregnancy and after the birth are common, can happen to anyone, and treatment can have good results.
Peri – around or near (Latin)
Natal – to do with birth (from Latin, natalis)
Perinatal mental health – mental and emotional health during pregnancy, or related to a birth or a new baby.
Pregnancy, childbirth and the postnatal period can be associated with the return or worsening of a previous mental health illness.
It is important to get specialist advice even if you are well during pregnancy. Those who have had previous mental illness are more likely to become unwell after giving birth.
Treatments may include medication and/or the input of specialist perinatal services. Ask your GP or psychiatrist for information and advice to help you decide what is best for you and your baby. This may mean continuing with, changing or stopping the medication.
Do not stop taking your current medication without first speaking to a doctor.
If you are pregnant
Your midwife will carry out a detailed assessment of your mental and physical wellbeing at the beginning of your pregnancy (the booking appointment) and will make sure that the right specialists are involved in your care. You may be seen by an obstetrician who specialises in mental health through pregnancy and after the birth. Mental health specialist midwives are available in all maternity services in Kent & Medway to make sure you receive the right care at the right time.
If you have had your baby
Below is some information about some of the different mental health conditions which can affect women and families.
You can speak to your midwife, health visitor or GP. All the professionals involved in your care will work together to make sure you have the support you need. You can also refer yourself directly for mental health support.
Where to get help
See below for details of the services that could help you.
The Perinatal Mental Health Community Service specialises in the assessment, diagnosis and short-term treatment of women 18 and above who are affected by a moderate to severe mental health illness in the preconception, antenatal and postnatal period.
Most women should in the first instance seek advice from their midwife, health visitor or GP. Many women can be offered initial support and treatment in primary care. However if more specialist support, advice, interventions or treatment is required, a referral to mental health services can be made.
We are broadening the remit of the service in line with the NHS Long Term Plan ambitions for specialist perinatal mental health community services and have consulted with those with lived experience of perinatal mental ill health, health and social care staff, commissioners and stakeholders on a service name that will be inclusive and appropriate.
There are a range of services available under Talking Therapies which offer support to those with less severe mental health needs.
You can refer yourself to a Talking Therapies service without seeing your GP.
Talking therapies can help with anxiety, depression, stress, trauma, phobias and other related problems.
Therapeutic appointments are available weekdays and evenings and some weekend appointments are available. All services are operating remotely via phone and online.
You can search the nhs website for psychological therapy services close to you here: Find a psychological therapies service.
Getting better from a mental health problem can involve a combination of lifestyle changes, medication and talking therapy. The important thing is to know that you are not on your own and talking to your midwife or doctor can be your first step.
Some women may need to take medication for an existing physical or mental health problem before, during and after pregnancy. Decisions about whether to continue, change or stop medications in pregnancy are not straightforward or easy. Some medications have been used in pregnancy for many years and are known to be safe; while there are a few medications that should be avoided. It is very important that you do not stop your medication suddenly unless your doctor tells you to. Stopping treatment suddenly can make you relapse and can cause unpleasant side-effects.
It is important to weigh up the risks and benefits of taking medication in pregnancy and to discuss this with your doctor so that they can consider what would be the safest yet most effective treatment for you and your baby. BUMPS (Best Use of Medicines in Pregnancy) provides reliable, evidence-based information about the use of medicines in pregnancy.
Postnatal depression is a persistent low mood or lack of interest in doing things that can start within a year of having a baby. Find out more on our page about postnatal depression.
Although many women have a very positive and empowering experience of childbirth, birth can also be difficult and frightening in some circumstances.
After events which are particularly frightening or distressing, it is normal to experience some 'post-traumatic stress' which can include feeling anxious and perhaps reliving parts of the experience in your mind. This normal response to traumatic events can develop into a disorder (post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD) if the response is particularly severe or continues for more than a few weeks after the event.
Birth trauma is another term for post-traumatic stress disorder after a negative experience of childbirth.
Some women can develop obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) for the first time during pregnancy and early parenthood.
OCD is an anxiety disorder when a person can experience unwelcome thoughts, as well as compulsive behaviours. Thoughts could be about accidentally or deliberately harming their child, or their child becoming ill.
It is very normal for mums and mums-to-be to occasionally experience these feelings and worries. But for some, they can find themselves very distressed and try to manage their anxieties or prevent their fears from coming true through compulsory behaviours such as cleaning, avoiding activities or having no breaks from caring for their baby.
If this is affecting you or your partner, contact your midwife, health visitor or GP. Early support is important for recovery
Read more about perinatal OCD here
Psychosis is a condition where people perceive what’s going on around them very differently from others or have thoughts and beliefs which get in the way of normal life. It’s important for women and their families to be aware that although psychosis is rare, there is an increased chance in the first weeks after birth.
Some new mums may feel over-energised, euphoric and feeling they need little sleep. This is called the ‘baby pinks’ and can be a warning sign. They may also feel they are unable to concentrate and their behaviour is more impulsive or out of character.
If you have any concerns or worries for yourself or your partner, especially if you or they have previously had a mental health problem, then speak to your midwife, health visitor or GP who can refer you for specialist support.
Find out more about postpartum psychosis at NHS.uk