Much about the physiological side of being pregnant is written and discussed. But in contrast, little is openly discussed about the mother’s mental health during pregnancy and how it can be affected by the pregnancy itself.
Many women have good mental health during pregnancy. Some women may already have a mental illness when they become pregnant or worry about mental health problems they have had in the past. The fear becoming unwell again during pregnancy or after childbirth can be very real. Unfortunately, pregnancy does not stop people from having mental health problems. Importantly, women who stop medication when they get pregnant have a high risk of becoming unwell again.
Some women have mental health problems for the first time in pregnancy. How your mental health is affected during pregnancy can depend on several things including;
- recent stressful events in your life (such as a death in the family or a relationship ending)
- how you feel about your pregnancy. You may or may not be happy about being pregnant. You may have upsetting memories about difficulties in your own childhood or memories from a previous pregnancy.
Depression and anxiety are the most common mental health problems to occur during pregnancy. These affect about 10% of pregnant women. Symptoms of mental illness in pregnancy are similar to symptoms you may have had at other times. Some symptoms might focus directly on the pregnancy. E.g. you may have anxious or negative thoughts about your pregnancy or your baby. You may find changes in your weight and shape difficult to cope with.
Sometimes pregnancy-related-symptoms can be confused with symptoms of mental illness. For example, broken sleep and lack of energy are common in both pregnancy and depression. Some people find it more difficult than others to cope with the changes and uncertainties which pregnancy brings. For some women, it can be a very happy and exciting time. Others may have mixed, or negative, feelings about being pregnant.
Many women worry about how they will cope with having a baby. Worries about some of the following are common when pregnant:
- changes in your role (becoming a mother, stopping work)
- changes in your relationships
- whether you will be a good parent
- fear that there will be problems with the pregnancy or the baby
- fear of childbirth and what it brings
- lack of support and being alone
- being responsible for another person’s wellbeing.
There are treatments available for mental health issues during pregnancy.
The best treatment will depend on the type and severity of illness you have experienced. Both medication and ‘talking treatments’ can help.
It is important to discuss medication with your GP or psychiatrist (if you are already using Psychiatry services). They will give you the information you need to help you decide what is best for you and your unborn baby. You may decide to continue, change or stop your medication.
- It is very important not to stop any medication suddenly, unless your doctor tells you to. Stopping treatment suddenly can cause a relapse quickly. It can also cause side-effects. It may be best for you to continue medication during pregnancy. Some medications have been used in pregnancy for many years. A few medications are known to cause problems. if taken in pregnancy.
- Your doctor can help you to think carefully about the advantages and disadvantages of choosing a particular medication. In order to make this decision, you will need to think about.
Talking treatments may be helpful for your mental health problem. For some women this can work well instead of medication. Others may need a talking treatment as well as medication to help them through the pregnancy. Some psychological therapies services will see you more quickly if you are pregnant. Your doctor can advise you about referral in your local area.
Your midwife will ask questions about your physical and mental health at key points in your progress meetings. You should tell your midwife if you have had mental health problems or if you are feeling unwell. She can ensure you get the care and support you need. It is important that you try to attend antenatal appointments during your pregnancy, regardless of how you feel in yourself. Sometimes a health visitor or midwife will spot that you are not feeling right in yourself when you arrive at a progress meeting or weigh-in or even ante-natal group. You may get asked how you are by another mum-to-be and sometimes that is all you need to start the ball rolling, in asking for help.