What are Pregnancy related mental health issues?

Pregnancy can be a difficult and stressful experience and it is not uncommon for women to experience emotional and psychological difficulties after giving birth or during the pregnancy.  These difficulties range from mild post pregnancy blues to a more severe depression or psychotic illness.  It is crucial that cases are identified early in order to prevent worsening of symptoms which could affect not only the mother but also the children involved.

What is the risk of developing post pregnancy depression?

The risk of developing a post pregnancy mental health problem is increased in those who have an already existing mental health difficulty or in those with a family history of post pregnancy mental health problems.  Factors such as a stressful or difficult pregnancy, poor social or family support, single motherhood can increase the chances of post pregnancy mental health issues arising.  A lot of new mother’s experience post pregnancy blues which occurs shortly after giving birth and only lasts for a brief period.  However, a minority of women can experience a more prolonged depression which if left untreated could progress to a psychotic episode.

What are the symptoms of post pregnancy depression/psychosis?

Women who have recently given birth can experience a melancholic feeling, loss of motivation and difficulties enjoying life as a mother.  Sleep, appetite and concentration can also be affected.  This symptom could be accompanied by anxiety and obsessional thoughts about the new born baby.  This could be brief and transient in some cases.  Others may experience a more prolonged depression which may require treatment.  Depressed mood, hopelessness, helplessness, lack of interest in the new-born child and suicidal thoughts may occur.  A more severe psychotic illness could develop which could pose a risk to both the mother and new-born.  Thoughts of harming the new born child or other children and suicidal thoughts are red flags that medical intervention should be sought immediately.

What is the treatment for post pregnancy mental health difficulties?

The treatment varies depending on the nature and severity of the illness.  Mild post pregnancy blues and depression can be treated effectively by psychotherapeutic approaches and the appropriate social support.  This may or may not require treatment with medication.  More severe forms such as pronged depression and psychosis will require treatment with anti-depressants or antipsychotics.  Some women who pose a risk to themselves or their children may need to be admitted to hospital for treatment.

What are the causes of post pregnancy mental health difficulties?

It has been suggested that genes play a role in the development of post pregnancy depression/psychosis.  Milder forms such as the post pregnancy blues could be associated with hormonal changes, stress, lack of support and coping with the demands of being a new mother.  More severe forms could be triggered by stress and hormonal changes in those who have a genetic vulnerability.   Mothers with a mental health history or a family history of post pregnancy mental health issues are at an increased risk.  Nutritional deficiencies may play a role in the development of post pregnancy mental health difficulties.

How can I reduce my risk of developing post pregnancy mental health difficulties?

Pregnancy can be a difficult time of some mother’s and having a supportive partner and social network could assist significantly in reducing this stress.  The nutritional demands of a developing baby are significant and pregnant women must ensure they are adequately nourished during and after the pregnancy.  Adequate sleep, maintaining a healthy diet, good hydration and participation in outdoor activities could be beneficial both during and after pregnancy in order to maintain an optimum state of mind.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, click here for a list of emergency services available

If you believe you may be suffering from psychological and emotional symptoms associated with pregnancy, please click here for therapists that specialise in post pregnancy mental health issues.

Click here to view therapists that specialise in pregnancy related conditions