Mental health issues during pregnancy and the first year postnatally are common, yet often go unrecognised.
Professionals can play an important role by supporting women and families to access support.
Mental health issues affect up to 20% of women during the perinatal period, which includes pregnancy and the first year following childbirth, and is a leading cause of maternal death within a year of birth. However, many perinatal mental health issues go unrecognised and are underreported.
Professionals working with women and families during the perinatal period have an important role in helping recognise perinatal mental health issues when they arise as well as assisting people to access the support they need.
Supporting women’s mental health
There are a number of ways professionals can support good mental health for women during this time, which in turn can contribute to the wellbeing and healthy development of babies and infants. This is particularly important because the children of mothers who experience mental illness are at an increased risk of being born prematurely and having low birth weight, as well as having behavioural and emotional difficulties later in life. Even relatively mild mental health difficulties can inhibit a mother’s ability to provide her baby with sensitive, responsive caregiving.
Often, difficulties arising in the perinatal period are similar to mental health issues arising at other times of life and may include:
- generalised anxiety disorder (worry)
- obsessive-compulsive disorder
- post-traumatic stress disorder
There can also be some important differences in terms of the nature, course and potential for relapse of a mental health problem.
Professionals should be aware that some women may show ‘red flag’ presentations, which should be considered psychiatric emergencies and prompt an urgent senior psychiatric assessment.
The Yorkshire and Humber Mother and Baby Unit may be contacted and you should call 0113 855 5509 if any of the following symptoms are present:
- Recent significant change in mental state or emergence of new symptoms
- New thoughts or acts of violent self-harm
- New and persistent expressions of incompetency as a mother or estrangement from the infant
Having a pre-existing history of psychosis or bipolar disorder or significant family history (e.g. a relative who experienced postpartum psychosis) may be considered amber flags in terms of being at elevated risk and should be referred to Leeds Perinatal Mental Health Service.
Pregnancy and childbirth can be a trigger for women experiencing wider psychological difficulties that might start for the first time during pregnancy. The pages in this section set out some of the key issues to consider and offer resources for professionals working with new and expectant mothers.