for better mental health

Postnatal depression and perinatal mental health

Explains postnatal depression and other perinatal mental health problems, including possible causes, treatments and support options. Also has information for friends and family, including support and advice for partners.

What are perinatal mental health problems?

A 'perinatal' mental health problem is one that you experience any time from becoming pregnant up to a year after you give birth.

Having a baby is a big life event. It's natural to experience a range of emotions during pregnancy and after giving birth. But if any difficult feelings start to have a big effect on your day-to-day life, you might be experiencing a perinatal mental health problem. 

This may be new mental health problem, or an episode of a problem you've experienced in the past.

'Perinatal' means the time from the start of your pregnancy up to roughly one year after giving birth. The word has two parts:

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

You might also hear other terms used to describe the times before or after giving birth:

  • Antenatal or prenatal meaning 'before birth'. This refers to the time when you are pregnant.
  • Postnatal or postpartum meaning 'after birth'. This refers to the first year after giving birth.

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

Information for partners

If your partner is pregnant or recently gave birth, you may also experience mental health problems around this time.

See our page on partners' mental health, including ways to find help and support.

female smiling on a beach with a young child strapped to her front

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"My pregnancy turned into the hardest time of my life. I was in a constant state of agitation... My whole body was consumed."

Common perinatal mental health problems

These information pages cover some of the most common perinatal mental health problems:

Some women also experience eating problems during and after pregnancy. Pregnancy charity Tommy's has specific information about eating disorders in pregnancy. It may also help to read our pages on eating problems

Talking about postnatal mental health

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

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

Managing existing mental health problems during pregnancy

If you have a mental health problem and you get pregnant, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor as soon as possible. You can also speak to your doctor about your mental health if you are planning to become pregnant in the future.

Your doctor can help you make plans to manage your mental health during pregnancy. They can also help you think about any extra support you might need. 

You might find it helpful to read our information on how to talk to your GP before having this conversation.

"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."

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

If you have experienced a mental health problem during or after a previous pregnancy, there is more risk of you becoming unwell again. But this doesn't mean you definitely will.

If you became unwell during a previous pregnancy, you might worry about having another baby. But you may feel more confident about how to look after yourself. And you may know how to spot any signs that you are becoming unwell.

If you do become pregnant again, it's important to talk to your doctor about how you can look after your mental health. You should also think about what kind of support you might need.

See our page on perinatal support and services for information about what support is available during pregnancy.

"I found it hard because, whilst people talk about postnatal depression, there is very little discussion of mental ill health in pregnancy and it is supposed to be such a joyful time."

Managing mental health problems with a new baby

If you recently had a baby and you're struggling with your mental health, it may seem difficult to talk openly about how you're feeling. 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 someone will take your baby away from you if you are open about how you're feeling.

But if you are finding things difficult, it is important to know that having these feelings is not your fault. You can ask for help or support if you need it.

If you need support, our page on perinatal support and services outlines the different options. This includes health professionals, charities and other organisations who may be able to help.

Our page on how you can look after your mental health when becoming a parent also has ideas that you can try for yourself.

And our page for friends and family has tips for the people around you to support you during this time.

Will I hurt my baby?

If you experience thoughts about harming your baby, this can be very frightening. But it's important to remember that having these thoughts doesn't actually mean you are going to harm your child.

You might be afraid to tell anyone about these feelings. But the more you can bring your feelings out into the open and talk about them, the sooner you can get support. This could be talking to a family member or friend, or to a health professional like your doctor or midwife.

Dealing with postnatal depression

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

This information was published in April 2020. We will revise it in 2023.

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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