What is Perinatal Mental Health?

  • Perinatal Mental Health refers to the emotional, psychological and social aspects of health during pregnancy and up to two years post birth.
  • It causes severe feelings of low mood and increased anxiety. In a minority of cases it can become a long term problem. If not treated it can cause relationship problems as well as difficulties relating to your baby.
  • Both mothers and fathers can suffer from Perinatal mental health problems.
  • 1 in 5 Mums and 1 in 10 Dads will experience Perinatal mental health problems.

Do not despair. You’re not to blame. The earlier you seek help, the better.

Baby Blues

  • After giving birth it is considered normal for women to experience changes in their mood; feeling down, tearful, irritability.
  • These symptoms are known as the “baby blues” and generally affect 50% of new mothers, lasting around 5 to 10 days.
  • However, if your changes of mood continue beyond this, it is possible that you are suffering from what is commonly known as “postnatal depression”.
  • You may also feel very anxious after your baby is born.

What are the causes?

There is no single answer as to why some new parents are affected and not others. Some possible causes include;

  • Previous history: you may have had other mental health problems such as depression, OCD or post-traumatic stress disorder earlier in life or during pregnancy.
  • Trauma during birth: your experience of pregnancy and childbirth may have been different to your expectations and not gone to plan
  • Pressure: you may be under pressure at work or home, combined with a lack of sleep and a change in routine
  • Relationships: as a new parent you may experience a strain in your relationship while adjusting to your new role. You are also more likely to suffer from depression if your partner is also depressed.
  • Lack of support: if you don’t have any close family or friends to support you, you may feel isolated and unable to share your feelings.

What should I look out for?

  • It is important to remember that every woman’s experience will be different and not every mother will experience all the symptoms.
  • If you are suffering from perinatal mental health problems, you may feel a constant feeling of sadness and low mood, loss of interest in the world around you and you may no longer enjoy the things that used to give you pleasure. It is also possible to experience feelings of agitation, guilt, self-blame and difficulties in relating to your baby
  • Fathers can experience depression in the postnatal period resulting from the different demands placed on them. Men go through a multitude of complex changes during the transition to fatherhood, making the postnatal period a particularly vulnerable time in their life.

How can I help myself?

There are a number of things you can do to help improve your feelings of wellbeing:

  • Talk to your partner, family and close friends about your thoughts and feelings. As hard as this might feel it is one of the best things you can do.
  • Eating a healthy diet, exercising and getting enough sleep where possible can have a positive effect on mood and sense of wellbeing.
  • Make time for yourself to do the things you enjoy – hobbies, exercise or social activities, even an hour here or there can make a difference.
  • Your baby still needs you – give them skin to skin contact, cuddles, baths, take your baby for a walk or play with them.
  • Don’t try to be ‘supermum’ or ‘superdad’ – take one day at a time and don’t try to do everything at once.
  • Don’t feel guilty about your feelings – it what you do about them that matters!

What if I need more support?

  • Remember, this is not your fault. Perinatal mental health problems can affect both mothers and fathers, from any background and for any reason. It is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. The most important thing you can do is to recognise it and seek support.
  • Help is available in a range of different forms including self-help advice, talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and antidepressant medication.
  • If you have concerns about your mental health you can seek help and support from your health visitor or GP. They will be able to carry out an assessment by asking you a number of questions and may ask you to complete a questionnaire, such as the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS). This will enable them to offer you the best support.

For more information, take a look at NHS Choices:

You may also find this video below useful: