Many women have good mental health during pregnancy. Some women may already have a mental illness when they get pregnant. Others worry about mental health problems they have had in the past. They fear getting ill again during pregnancy or after childbirth. Some women have mental health problems for the first time in pregnancy. Unfortunately, pregnancy does not stop people from having mental health problems. Women who stop medication when they get pregnant may be at risk of getting ill again.
Depression and anxiety are the most common mental health problems in pregnancy. These affect about 10 to 15 out of every 100 pregnant women. Women can also experience other mental health problems during pregnancy, just like at other times.
How your mental health is affected during pregnancy depends on many things. These include:
- the type of mental illness you have previously experienced
- whether you are on treatment
- recent stressful events in your life (such as a death in the family or a relationship ending)
- how you feel about your pregnancy. You may or may not be happy about being pregnant. You may have upsetting memories about difficulties in your own childhood.
Symptoms of mental illness can be the same as those occurring at other times, or might focus on the pregnancy. For instance, you may have anxious or negative thoughts about your pregnancy or your baby. You may find changes in your weight and shape difficult, particularly if you have had eating problems.
Sometimes pregnancy-related-symptoms can be confused with symptoms of mental illness. For example, broken sleep and lack of energy are common in both pregnancy and depression.
Some people find it more difficult than others to cope with the changes and uncertainties which pregnancy brings. For some women, it can be a very happy and exciting time. Others may have mixed, or negative, feelings about being pregnant.
Many women worry about how they will cope with having a baby. Worries about some of the following are common when you are pregnant:
- changes in your role (becoming a mother, stopping work)
- changes in your relationships
- whether you will be a good parent
- fear that there will be problems with the pregnancy or the baby
- fear of childbirth
- lack of support and being alone
What if I have had mental health problems in the past, but am well now?
You should be referred to a mental health service if you are pregnant and have ever had:
- a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder or severe depression
- postpartum psychosis or severe postnatal depression
- a severe anxiety disorder such as obessive compulsive disorder
- an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia
- inpatient treatment from mental health services
It is important to get specialist advice even if you are well during this pregnancy. Women who have had these illnesses have a high risk of becoming unwell after childbirth. Mental health professionals will discuss care and treatment choices with you. They will help you make a plan for your care, with your midwife, obstetrician, health visitor and GP.
Talk to your GP if you have had any other mental health problems. Often your GP will be able to advise about care and treatment. This will depend on the illness you have had and how severe it has been.