About maternal mental health
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 a new mental health problem, or an episode of a problem you’ve experienced in the past.
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.
How pregnancy impacted my mental health
“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:
- Perinatal depression
- Perinatal anxiety
- Perinatal OCD
- Postpartum psychosis
- Postpartum PTSD
Some women also experience eating problems during and after pregnancy. Pregnancy charity Tommy’s (based in the UK) has specific information about eating disorders in pregnancy. It may also help to read our pages on eating problems.
“It took a lot of courage to tell someone that I was experiencing suicidal thoughts and had sought help from my family doctor.”
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 doctor 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 family doctor, obstetrician, or existing mental health clinician about how you can look after your mental health. You should also think about what kind of support you might need.
See the women’s health section of the Family Health Department for more information about services available.
“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, see the women’s health section of the Family Health Department for more information about services available.
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.”