Perinatal Mental Health


Having a baby is a huge life event that has the power to alter absolutely everything you know about yourself, your body, your relationships, and your hormones. Its entirely natural to have big emotions during pregnancy and after birth. However if you find your feelings having an impact on your day-to-day life, you might have a perinatal mental health problem.

What does perinatal mean?

Perinatal refers to the time both before and after the birth of a child.

You may hear other words used interchangeably including prenatal/antenatal or postnatal/postpartum and these all talk about the perinatal period but focused on before (prenatal) or after (Postnatal) birth.

There are several mental health illnesses including

🖤 Perinatal Anxiety

Often referred to as prenatal/antenatal anxiety, postnatal anxiety or perinatal anxiety whilst they are interchangeable they can refer to different timeframes as outlined in the beginning of this blog.

The awareness around depression is greater than that around anxiety but many people experience it and its common for women experiencing depression to also experience anxiety at the same time.

What are the symptoms of perinatal anxiety?

Common physical and mental effects include:

  • Restlessness
  • Fast breathing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Hot flashes
  • Unable to relax / feeling tense
  • Fearing the worst
  • Worrying or panicking 

Are there treatments for perinatal anxiety?

There are many options that your Doctor can suggest but these may include:

  • Talking Therapy / Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • Self-help resources
  • Medication

A combination of any and all of these may be offered

🖤 Perinatal Depression

Probably the most widely known illness, but many do not know that this can occur both before and after birth. There is a difference between the baby blues and depression, the baby blues is the period after birth where hormones surge, low mood occurs and you can be extremely emotional and tearful for the first 2 weeks.

What are the symptoms of perinatal depression?

You might feel

  • Upset, down or tearful
  • Agitated or irritable
  • Worthless or self deprecating
  • Empty and numb
  • Isolated and avoid others
  • Finding no pleasure in your usual activities
  • No self-confidence or self-esteem
  • Hostile to your partner and/or baby
  • Suicidal feelings

Are there treatments for depression?

In consultation with your doctor treatments can include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or Interpersonal therapy (IPT)
  • Medication
  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
  • Self care
  • Keep a mood diary
  • Stay on top of your personal hygiene
  • Speak to others with similar experiences 
  • Contact specialist organisations

🖤 Perinatal OCD (Obsessive compulsive disorder)

This is a type of anxiety disorder that can manifest in a variety of ways. It consists of both the obsessions (unwelcome thoughts, images, doubts and worries that repeatedly appear and make you feel anxious) and compulsions (repetitive activities to reduce the stress caused by the thoughts). In Perinatal OCD the obsessions and compulsions are likely to relate to being a parent or about your baby. 

What are the symptoms?

Common obsessions:

  • Intrusive thoughts about harming your baby
  • Disturbing thoughts about abusing your child
  • Fear of making the wrong decision
  • Fear of reeling responsible for a serious disease/illness

Common compulsions:

  • Excessive cleaning (toys/clothes)
  • Avoiding changing nappies 
  • Isolating your child from other people thinking you are keeping them safe from harm or illness
  • Constant checking on your baby 
  • Asking for constant reassurance that your baby hasn't been hurt or abused 

The more you talk about intrusive thoughts to other mums the more you hear people say "me too", alongside talking there are other treatments available. 

What are the treatments?

  • Talking therapy usually Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and Exposure and response prevention (ERP)
  • Medication 
  • A combination of the two

🖤 Postpartum Psychosis

Postpartum psychosis is a rare but serious mental health illness that can affect women soon after giving birth. It’s also known as puerperal or postnatal psychosis.

What are the symptoms of postpartum psychosis?

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • A manic or low mood
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Feeling fearful or suspicious
  • Confusion
  • Behaving out of character
  • Restlessness


The causes of postpartum psychosis are unknown but risk factors include:

  • Having a family history of mental health illness, particularly postpartum psychosis
  • A traumatic birth or pregnancy
  • Developing the same illness after a previous pregnancy
  • Already being diagnosed with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia


Most women suffering from postpartum psychosis need to be given specialist psychiatric treatment in hospital, ideally with their baby in a mother and baby unit. It can take between six and 12 months or longer to recover from the condition, but with treatment most women make a full recovery.

🖤 You are not alone

Perinatal mental health issues are experienced by 20% of women - that's 1 in 5! Many women however will fly under the radar muddling through and not reach out for help so this figure could indeed be higher. Know that you are not alone and there is help available, for peer-to-peer support reach out to Pandas Foundation, you can speak to your GP for a referral for CBT or self help resources or if you are struggling right now or if you are concerned about someone else speak to the Samaritans 

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