Maternal mental health in pregnancy & beyond

During pregnancy and after birth, women may experience a range of mental health difficulties, such as anxiety disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or postnatal psychotic disorders.

Perinatal illnesses occur during pregnancy and the first year following the birth. They include conditions that were present before pregnancy and which continue, worsen or re-appear with pregnancy and the perinatal period, and also conditions arising for the first time.

Perinatal mental health illnesses affect around 1 in 5 women.

7 in 10 women will hide or underplay the severity of their perinatal illness.

Pregnancy and childbirth increases women’s risk of developing a serious mental illness (postpartum psychosis or severe depressive illness), and are associated with increased risk of recurrence of, or deterioration in pre-existing serious mental health illness (bipolar and severe depressive illnesses).

Less severe but debilitating mental illness, particularly anxiety and depression are common during pregnancy and afterwards. Many more mothers will not quite meet the criteria for a diagnosis of mental illness but will nevertheless experience significant distress. It is important to remember that this a treatable illness and that mums should seek medical help. 

Who is at greatest risk of developing a perinatal mental illness?

The presence of risk factors does not inevitably lead to perinatal mental illness. Many women are resilient in the face of extraordinary stressors, or with support and early help will not become unwell. Early identification is important in supporting mothers and babies to get off to the best start possible. Having some understanding and knowledge of risk factors can help us all to be mindful of possible difficulties. So who is at greater risk?

Perinatal mental illness can affect anyone

Despite the increased risks amongst some groups of women, it is important to note that anyone, from any walk of life, may be affected by mental illness.

Suicide is a leading cause of death for women during pregnancy and for 1 year after birth

Will there be an impact on baby?

Perinatal mental illness causes a great deal of distress for individuals and families and can have particular significance at this important time of life. Whilst not at all inevitable, parental mental illness can impact on the developing bond, when a parents’ feelings, low mood, or state of mind affects their responding to their baby. Mum’s might feel overwhelmed by the babies’ needs, unable to enjoy the interactions with their baby, or struggle with some of the tasks of parenting when the cognitive symptoms of depression may impact on their ability to plan or to establish routines of feeding or sleeping.

Unidentified and untreated perinatal mental illness not only can have long effects on maternal self-esteem and family relationships, but also on the development of the child. Getting the right treatment at the right time makes a big difference, whether that is in treating the illness in the Mum or in supporting the parent-infant relationship where this is needed.

Perinatal mental health services and specialist parent-infant relationship services exist to offer treatment in different ways.

Crisis Support:

If you, or someone you are concerned about, are in crisis, despairing or suicidal, please contact a health professional e.g your own GP, midwife or health visitor, go to A&E at your local hospital or call emergency services on 999.

You can also call Samaritans on 116 123 (free to call and will not appear on your phone bill – Welsh language option is 0808 164 0123), or email

This content has been made available from the Home-Start UK website