Mental Problems During Pregnancy and How to avoid them

If you have had in the past, or now have, severe mental health problems, you’re more likely to become ill during pregnancy or in the first year after giving birth than at other times in your life.

Severe mental health problems include bipolar affective disorder, severe depression and psychosis. After giving birth, severe mental illness may progress more quickly and be more serious than at other times.

Other less severe mental health problems may also become more problematic during these times, though this might not necessarily happen to you.

Antenatal appointments

Sometimes – not always – a mental health problem can cause you to miss appointments. If this happens while you are pregnant, it may mean you miss important health checks.

This could increase your risk of pregnancy-related complications that would otherwise have been picked up.


Treatment for mental health problems in pregnancy and after giving birth can include psychological treatments and medication.

You and your doctor should discuss the risk of treating or not treating your illness, as well as the risks to the developing baby of taking medication.

Your discussion should include:

how severe any previous mental health problem was

the risk of you becoming unwell

whether you can cope without treatment

which treatments have helped you in the past, and

the risk to the unborn baby of some of the drugs used in treating mental health conditions

Feeling down or anxious

If feeling down is affecting your everyday life but you don’t have a specific mental illness, you should be offered support to help you manage your feelings.

This support could be from health professionals, voluntary organisations or other services. You may be offered psychological treatment (usually cognitive behavioural therapy or psychotherapy) if you have anxiety or depression.

The ‘baby blues’

The “baby blues” is a time when you may feel low and tearful, and it usually occurs in the first week after the birth.

It’s a result of the normal hormonal changes taking place in your body and affects many new mothers.

But pregnancy and birth can trigger more serious depression in some women.

Symptoms that may indicate you are depressed include:

feeling very sad and hopeless

negative thoughts about yourself

not sleeping well

a lack of interest or pleasure in doing things

loss of appetite

Who’s at risk?

Depressive illness occurs in around 1 in 10 new mothers in the year following the birth of their baby.

Most will only have mild depression, but some develop a severe depressive illness. Other mothers develop severe mental health problems such as postpartum psychosis (a rare psychiatric illness affecting 1 in 1,000 women who have a baby) and require specialist help.

Your health visitor should discuss how you’re feeling after the birth, but warning signs to watch out for include:

feeling irritable and angry

crying or often being on the verge of crying

feeling unable to cope

having negative thoughts about yourself, such as “I am a bad mother”

worrying unnecessarily about things that wouldn’t normally bother you

excessive worry about your baby’s health

being afraid of being left alone with your baby

uncontrollable feelings of panic

overwhelming fears, for example fear of dying

dreams about harming your baby

sleeping problems

feeling exhausted and lethargic

lack of interest in your surroundings and appearance, or becoming obsessively tidy

trouble concentrating and feeling distracted

gaining or losing large amounts of weight

loss of pleasure in activities you usually enjoy, including loss of libido (sex drive)

feelings of guilt that you’re a bad mother

If you think you may be depressed, talk to your doctor, midwife or health visitor as soon as possible, as they can arrange suitable care for you.

What you can do

Although the best way to treat depression is to seek help from a healthcare professional, there are steps you can take yourself to reduce your chances of developing depression and help you recover once you’ve been diagnosed.

Try to:

look for the positive things in your life, however hard that may seem

involve your partner or someone you’re close to in your pregnancy and baby

make time to relax

be open about your feelings

ask for help with practical tasks like grocery shopping and household chores

find out about local support groups (find mental health services near you)

make time to rest

eat well (find out more about healthy diet in pregnancy)

find time to have fun

organise small treats every day, such as a workout or a coffee with friends (find out about exercise in pregnancy and keeping fit and healthy after the birth)

Try to avoid:

doing too much – cut down on other commitments when you’re pregnant or caring for a new baby

getting involved in stressful situations

drinking too much tea, coffee, alcohol or cola, which can stop you sleeping well (find out more about alcohol, medicines and drugs)

moving house

being too hard on yourself or your partner

The website of the Royal College of Psychiatrists has more information about postnatal mental health, including puerperal psychosis.