Maternal Mental Health

The Royal College of Gynaecologists conducted a survey of 2300 women in regards to their mental health during pregnancy and after giving birth to their child. The results that they found were very interesting and rather eye-opening.

The survey found that 81% of the participants had experienced a maternal mental health condition with only 7% of those being referred to a mental health specialist.

38% of women waited for more than 4 weeks for their referral; with some waiting for over one year.

19% of the women when asked in the survey, said that they were never asked about their mental health during pregnancy or after the birth of their child.

Maternal mental health can affect the individual during pregnancy and up to 12 months after giving birth. Many people believe that maternal mental health conditions are limited to low-mood, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders, however, this is not true.

Maternal mental health conditions can also include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and psychosis.

Postnatal Psychosis is rare but it is serious. It generally occurs in 1 out of 1000 births, however these figures change to 1 in every 4 births for women who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Symptoms for postnatal psychosis tend to start suddenly within a few weeks after giving birth. This can be a overwhelming and frightening experience for both the mother and her loved ones. It is important to seek help if you feel as though you may have postnatal psychosis or if you think you may be of high risk for psychosis during pregnancy so that they can plan ahead with you ready for supporting you after the birth of your child. With the right support and guidance, most women make a full recovery.

If you are experiencing postnatal psychosis, you may feel excited or elated, severely depressed, have rapid mood changes and feel confused and disorientated. Psychosis can also affect your behaviours, you may be restless, unable to sleep, unable to concentrate and you may have symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations.

Delusions – Significantly unusual beliefs that other people do not share. For example you may believe that you are related to a celebrity even when there is no link between you. Some delusions can be severely frightening, for example, making you believe that someone is out to kill you. This may also be referred to as paranoia.

Hallucinations – You may see or hear things that are not truly there, you may also experience tastes, smells and sensations that people around you do not feel.

There are no exact causes for postnatal psychosis, however there are some risk factors, such as a traumatic pregnancy or birth, or a history of mental health conditions (especially psychosis) within the family.

There are some treatments available for those experiencing psychosis. You may be offered anti-psychotic medications and therapies (in severe cases electroconvulsive therapy, ECT, may be offered). There may be an opportunity to be treated within a mother and baby unit in a hospital; ensuring you receive the treatment and the support that you need and making sure that you get to stay with your newborn.

Postnatal PTSD may occur if you have experienced a traumatic pregnancy or labour. As a result you may have flashbacks of unwanted memories and have difficulty concentrating and sleeping. You may also experience panic attacks when faced with certain triggers. You may be offered anxiety medications and anti-depressants as well as talking therapies.

The most common forms of maternal mental health conditions are perinatal depression, anxiety and OCD. With 10-15% of women experiencing postnatal depression. You can read more about each of these here!

It may be difficult to see the difference between baby blues and postnatal depression. However, baby blues are very common for new mothers. If you have baby blues you may feel emotional and tearful a few days after giving birth, this may last for a few days but will subside after that. Though some mothers develop a much deeper, longer-term depression. If you feel you have postnatal depression, speak with you GP or Midwife for support and guidance.

Perinatal mental health conditions do not only affect the mother of the child, but can also affect the father or the mothers partner.
1 in 8 partners (from the survey conducted by RCOG) experienced mental health problems yet the majority of them did not seek support for this.

It is important to talk about paternal mental health. Partners of the mother should also be offered support during pregnancy and after the birth of their child.
Many partners think that the health of the mother of their child is more important than their own… though this is not the case. Everyone’s health is important and a mothers mental health can impact on her partner and vice versa, therefore it is important to talk about how we are feeling and to get help and support where needed.

Talking to your GP or midwife about your mental health during pregnancy and after birth is nothing to be ashamed or scared of. They are there to help and support you, they will not judge your ability to be a parent, based on your mental health. They will get you the help and support that you need in order to feel better and to help you to be able provide your child with everything that they need.

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