Postnatal depression and perinatal mental health

Explains postnatal depression and other perinatal mental health issues, including possible causes, sources of treatment and support, and advice for friends and family.

About maternal mental health

Having a baby is a big life event, and it's natural to experience a range of emotions and reactions during and after your pregnancy. But if they start to have a big impact on how you live your life, you might be experiencing a mental health problem.

Around one in five women will experience a mental health problem during pregnancy or in the year after giving birth. This might be a new mental health problem or another episode of a mental health problem you've experienced before. These are known as perinatal mental health problems.

What does 'perinatal' mean?

'Perinatal' means the period of time covering your pregnancy and up to roughly a year after giving birth. It's made up of two parts:

  • peri meaning 'around'
  • natal meaning 'birth'

You might have also heard terms used to describe the time specifically before or after giving birth, such as:

  • postnatal or postpartum meaning 'after birth'
  • antenatal or prenatal meaning 'before birth'

There's no right or wrong word to describe the period of time around pregnancy and after birth, and you might hear your doctor or midwife use any of these.

"It took a lot of courage to tell my midwife that I was experiencing suicidal thoughts and had sought help from my GP."

It can be really difficult to feel able to talk openly about how you're feeling when you become a new parent. You might feel:

  • pressure to be happy and excited
  • like you have to be on top of everything
  • worried you're a bad parent if you're struggling with your mental health
  • worried that your baby will be taken away from you if you admit how you're feeling

But it's important to ask for help or support if you need it. You're likely to find that many new mothers are feeling the same way.

Will I hurt my baby?

If you experience thoughts about death or harming yourself or the baby, this can be very frightening, and may make you feel as if you are going mad or completely out of control. You may be afraid to tell anyone about these feelings.

But it's important to realise that having these thoughts doesn't mean that you are actually going to harm yourself or your children. However difficult it is, the more you can bring these feelings out into the open and talk about them, whether to a family member, a friend or a health professional, the sooner you can get support.

Postnatal mental health

Watch Sara, Holly and Kate talk about their experience of mental health problems after pregnancy.

What kind of perinatal mental health problems are there?

You can experience any kind of mental health problems during and after pregnancy, but there are some that are particularly common or are specifically linked to pregnancy and childbirth. These pages cover:

Some women also experience eating problems around pregnancy. See our pages on eating problems for general information, and Tommy's has specific information about eating disorders in pregnancy.

Dealing with postnatal depression

"Hearing the doctor say she thought I had postnatal depression was initially a shock, but it started to make sense."

How can I manage an existing mental health problem?

If you become pregnant, or are planning to become pregnant, it's important to think about how you can manage your mental health during this time. Whatever your feelings are about being pregnant or becoming a parent, this can be a stressful time for everyone.

Talk to your doctor as soon as possible. They will be able to help you make plans to manage your mental health during pregnancy. See our page on support and services for more information, and our pages on different mental health problems for more information on treatment and support.

"I had been diagnosed with PTSD prior to my pregnancy. When I became pregnant with my daughter I had ‘crisis’ episodes and was referred to a consultant who helped me to identify my triggers."

Infant loss and mental health

Experiencing infant loss (for example, through miscarriage, still birth or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)) can be extremely traumatic and can have a big effect on your mental health. You don't have to cope alone, and there is support out there. You can find further information from:

If I became unwell last time I was pregnant, will it happen again?

If you've previously experienced a mental health problem during or directly after pregnancy, then you are at an increased risk of becoming unwell again – but this doesn't mean you definitely will. You might:

  • feel reluctant or anxious about having another baby
  • feel more confident about spotting any symptoms, and how to look after yourself

If you do become pregnant again, it's important to talk to your doctor about how you can look after your mental health, and find out about what support you can get. See our pages on support and services and self-care for more information.

This information was published in July 2016. We will revise it in 2019.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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