Mental health problems during and after pregnancy

Woman suffering from PND

Pregnant women and new mothers will be able to access help with mental health problems more easily this year, says NHS England. More than £20m has been promised by the government on services to improve the help offered to mothers. Read on for the symptoms of both perinatal and postnatal mental health problems.

One in five women will experience mental health problems while pregnant or during their baby's first year. These are most commonly depression or anxiety, and left untreated, they can have a significant impact on women or their families.

However, new funding will mean that pregnant women and new mothers will be able to access help with mental health problems more easily. More than £20m is due to be spent, building on £40m already committed in 2016.

Claire Murdoch, national mental health director for NHS England, says that mental ill health can affect anyone.

“It can happen to anyone at any time and it disrupts life not just for mums but the whole family, which is why we are absolutely committed to driving forward improvements in care and ensuring this important area of mental health continues to get the attention it deserves.”

Symptoms of perinatal mental health problems

Pregnancy can be an emotional time and it’s not unusual to feel worried about what’s ahead. Research shows that many women experience mental health problems during pregnancy – and although only a small percentage are referred to specialist care, it’s important to know that if you’re struggling, support is available and you don’t have to go through it alone

While your body is growing a tiny human, it’s not uncommon to feel nervous about becoming a parent. You’re probably having to cope with less sleep than you’re used to as your body changes shape and keeps you up at night, and it’s also likely that you’re spending a fair bit of time thinking about how you’ll respond to life’s new challenges and responsibilities. Add worries about the baby you’ve not yet met into the mix – and pregnancy can be tough.

Going to the doctor is the right thing to do. I had prenatal depression with my daughter too and was referred to counselling. Don't beat yourself about it, you're not a failure, it just happens sometimes.

A survey from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has shown many women experience mental health problems during or after pregnancy. They surveyed more than 2300 women who had given birth in the past five years and found:

  • 81% of respondents had experienced at least one episode of a mental health problem during or after their pregnancy
  • Two-thirds reported experiencing low mood, half experienced anxiety and just over a third said they had experienced depression.
  • Only 7% of women with mental health problems during or after pregnancy were referred to specialist care
  • For 38% of the women who were referred, it took over four weeks to be seen, with some waiting up to a year for treatment

The survey results echo findings from Mumsnet's 2015 survey into medical care for sufferers of postnatal depression, which found that nearly one-third of women who suffered PND did not seek professional help.

You have done nothing wrong and you're not to blame. If you feel you can't put it into words in the surgery, write down how you feel beforehand. Eventually it gets better, and there is no shame in getting help.

Professor Lesley Regan, President of the RCOG, said “These survey results reveal the true impact of the care that women with maternal mental health problems currently receive in England and Wales. Only by listening to these women can we learn through their experiences and take urgent action to improve our services.”

“Giving parity of esteem to mental and physical health is crucial. No one is to blame for developing a mental illness and as a society we need to be reinforcing this message constantly.”

Symptoms of PND

The symptoms of PND vary from person to person but can include feelings of sadness, despondency, exhaustion, insomnia, anxiety, and feelings of a change in personality. Each case of PND is different, and if you are concerned about your health or that of someone you know, don't be afraid to seek support.

Risk factors for PND

Absolutely anyone can suffer from PND, but there are many factors which may contribute to someone developing it, such as previous depression, fertility treatment, hormonal changes, social/economic/relationship problems, traumatic birth, or previous miscarriage/stillbirth.

Where to find support

If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health problems during or following pregnancy, you don't have to go through it alone. Your GP, health visitor or midwife will be able to offer you advice, and help you find a treatment that works for you, which may include antidepressants, counselling, PND support groups or complementary therapies. Eating well, exercising and ensuring you get enough rest are also key to ensuring your recovery, and surrounding yourself with supportive friends and family members. It can be a long road to recovery, but please remember to be kind to yourself. Having a baby isn't easy. You can find help on the Maternity Mental Health website or find support from others who have had similar experiences on our dedicated Talk forum.