Pregnancy and Postnatal Mental Health
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 and may fear getting ill again during pregnancy or after child-birth. Some women have mental health problems for the first time in pregnancy. Unfortunately, pregnancy does not stop people from having mental health problems.
What mental health problems may women encounter in the perinatal period?
I suppose the easiest answer is any of the mental health difficulties that women may encounter at any other time in their lives. Their bodies may be getting ready to have a child but their brains continue along the same paths, reacting to difficulties as usual.
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 also experience many other mental health problems during pregnancy, just like at other times.
The Baby Blues
Following the first week after giving birth some mums may find themselves weepy and irritable. This is known as the baby blues and is experienced by many women. Symptoms include feeling emotional and irrational, bursting into tears for no reason and feelings of depression and anxiety. It is caused by hormonal and emotional changes following having a baby, as well as adjusting to new demands and routines while feeling sleep deprived. They should feel better without any treatment by the time their babies are around 2 weeks old. If they continue to feel this way some weeks after the birth, it may be a sign they are experiencing postnatal depression.
What is Post Natal Depression?
The symptoms of post-natal depression are similar to any other depression and it can develop within the first six weeks of giving birth, although it is often not apparent until around six months. Postnatal depression can sometimes go unnoticed and many women are unaware they have it, even though they don’t feel quite right. It may be more common than many people realise, affecting around 1 in 10 women after having a baby.
Signs and Symptoms
The biggest thing women may notice is the emotional changes; they may be feeling sad, irritable and notice themselves crying. They may experience sleep disturbance, changes to their appetite and feelings of tension in their bodies. Their thoughts may be particularly negative and they might notice themselves being critical of themselves and those around them as well and possibly worrying a lot. There may be changes to their behaviours, it might be that they are avoiding seeing people, not doing the things they enjoy and avoiding housework or trying to do too much.
What treatment is available for mental health problems during pregnancy?
The best treatment for these women will depend on the type and severity of illness they have experienced. Both medication and psychological therapies (talking treatments) can help.
A talking treatment may be helpful for their mental health problem. For some women this can be used instead of medication. Others may need a talking treatment as well as medication.