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Understanding Maternal Mental Health: 

Being a mum is a wonderful but challenging journey, and it's okay if you're finding it tough. You're not alone. In the UK, many mums and their partners face mental health challenges during pregnancy and after childbirth.

 

Having a baby is a huge life-changing event and it is natural to have times when you feel overwhelmed and anxious during pregnancy and after your baby is born.

Up to 1 in 5 new mothers will experience mental health issues during pregnancy or in the year after birth—what is often called the perinatal period (‘peri’ meaning ‘around’ and ‘natal’ meaning ‘birth’).

 

Let's explore what you might be experiencing and how you can get support.

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What Are Perinatal Mental Health Issues?

Perinatal mental health problems can happen during pregnancy or in the first couple of years after giving birth. They might be new or a return of past issues. Recognising these problems early is crucial for getting the help you need.

Parents can recover from perinatal mental health problems, getting the right support and treatment is really important and makes a big difference.

Types of Perinatal Mental Health Issues?

Here’s a look at some common issues:

THE BLUES AND THE PINKS

Third or fourth day blues effect most women and birthing people after child birth. The Blues are characterised by weepiness, irritability and mild depression, some mothers feel very sad, anxious, overwhelmed and tense. This is known as the "baby blues" and should resolve after a few days. 

Some new mums may feel over-energised, euphoric and feeling they need little sleep. This is called the ‘baby pinks’. This again should pass after a few days but can be a warning sign for a serious mental illness called postpartum psychosis.

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ANXIETY & DEPRESSION

Women and birthing people may experience anxiety or depression during pregnancy and after giving birth. These conditions can occur together, and symptoms may not develop until later in the baby's first year. Common symptoms include feelings of despondency, sleeping and eating difficulties, guilt, and inadequacy, especially related to the new baby. Many mothers will feel tired and lack energy, struggle with concentration, and can find simple tasks confusing.

 

Anxiety, panic attacks, and a loss of enjoyment in life can also occur. It's important to reassure mothers that they will get better with time and that their illness is not their fault.

MATERNAL OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER (OCD)

Maternal OCD can start during pregnancy. It can feel compelling to carry out rituals, if not, you may believe something really awful will happen. Symptoms can vary widely but can include severe anxiety, intrusive thoughts, obsessions and compulsive behaviours. These can focus around the baby and impact the mother’s ability to enjoy time with her child. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be an effective treatment.

PERINATAL ADJUSTMENT DISORDER

Adjustment disorder can occur as a person adapts to becoming a new parent. This condition is often mild and doesn't last as long but can still be extremely distressing. Symptoms might include sadness, worry, and difficulty coping with daily tasks, triggered by the stress of the new parenting role.

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PERINATAL TRAUMA, BIRTH TRAUMA & POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD)

Feeling overwhelmed, out of control, being unwell and complications at the time of giving birth can all be factors that lead to birth trauma . Postnatal PTSD can develop after a traumatic childbirth event or a high stress situation/period of time in the perinatal period. Symptoms often include intrusive memories, flashbacks, nightmares, anger, self-blame, low mood, suicidal thoughts, and isolation. Mothers may relive the trauma with physical symptoms like pain, nausea, and sweating. Avoidance of reminders of the trauma is common, and depression often follows, with symptoms like irritability and sleep difficulties. 

The effects of birth trauma are significant and can persist for years, leading to symptoms such as panic attacks and other maternal mental health issues. During labour, some women and birthing people may fear for their lives or their baby's safety, resulting in feelings of helplessness, horror, and extreme fear. Post-birth, these feelings can manifest as intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and flashbacks. Hypervigilance and avoidance of birth-related triggers, including the baby, are common. Birth trauma can affect the mother-baby relationship and future family planning.  

TOKOPHOBIA

Primary Tokophobia is the extreme fear of child birth or pregnancy. Secondary tokophobia is the extreme fear of child birth or pregnancy after a previous traumatic birth or post-traumatic stress disorder.

POST PARTUM PSYCHOSIS

Postpartum Psychosis (PPP) is a severe, but treatable, form of mental illness that occurs after having a baby. It can happen ‘out of the blue’ to women and birthing people without previous experience of mental illness. There are some groups with a history of bipolar disorder for example, who are at much higher risk. PPP normally begins in the first few days to weeks after childbirth. It can get worse very quickly and should always be treated as a medical emergency.

 

Most women and birthing people need to be treated with medication and admitted to hospital, to a specialist Mother and Baby Unit.


With the right treatment, women and birthing people with PPP do make a full recovery. Recovery takes time and the journey may be tough. The illness can be frightening and shocking for those experiencing it and their family. Women and birthing people do return to their normal selves and are able to regain the mothering role they expected. There is no evidence that the baby’s long-term development is affected by Postpartum Psychosis.

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Signs & Symptoms to Watch For:

Most mums experience the baby blues, some tearfulness and low mood a few days after birth, but if your problems persist, start in pregnancy or start later in the first year after having your baby, you may be suffering from postnatal depression or another perinatal mental health problem. Symptoms are different for every mum but may include:

  • feeling sad and tearful

  • Lack of interest or pleasure

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Guilt or worthlessness

  • Appetite changes

  • Overwhelming anxiety

  • Thoughts of self-harm

  • feeling anxious or afraid to be on your own with your baby.

  • being preoccupied with worrying thoughts.

  • having difficulty adjusting to parenthood or in bonding with your baby.

  • experiencing difficulties with your partner since having a baby.

  • feeling stressed and unmotivated.

  • feeling tired and overwhelmed.

  • having difficulties getting over your birth experience.

With the right support, postnatal depression and other perinatal mental health issues including anxiety, obtrusive thoughts and PTSD from birth trauma are very treatable. You should seek professional help if you are:

  • unable to handle the intensity of what you are feeling, or the physical sensations.

  • continue to feel numb or overly stressed.

  • feel like your emotions are not returning to ‘normal’.

  • have disturbed sleeping and eating patterns.

  • have no person or group with whom you can share your feelings and experiences.

  • find relationships with friends and family are suffering.

If you would like support from Nurture the Borders you can self-refer or make a referral for a loved one here:

Or call us on 0300 030 5361.

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Getting the help and support you need...

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URGENT HELP

Please note we are NOT a crisis service.  

If you or a family member require urgent support please contact your GP, Samaritans on 116 123 or the emergency services on 999.

You can also attend A&E if necessary.

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