Perinatal mental health

 Content Editor

​What are perinatal mental health problems?
'Perinatal' means the period of time covering your pregnancy and up to roughly a year after giving birth. It's made up of two parts - peri meaning 'around' and natal meaning 'birth'.

Perinatal mental health problems occur in women during pregnancy or in the first year after having a baby. One in five women experiences mental health problems during pregnancy or in the first year after birth.

If left untreated, mental health issues can have significant and long-lasting effects on the woman, their child, and their wider family, so it's really important you seek help as soon as possible.

What are the symptoms of perinatal mental health problems?
Postnatal depression and anxiety
Many women feel a bit down, tearful or anxious in the first week after giving birth. This is often called the 'baby blues' and is so common that it's considered normal.

The 'baby blues' do not last for more than two weeks after giving birth. If your symptoms last longer or start later, you could have postnatal depression. Postnatal depression can start any time in the first year after giving birth.

Signs that you or someone you know might be depressed include:
  • A persistent feeling of sadness and low mood
  • Lack of enjoyment and loss of interest in the wider world
  • Lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
  • Trouble sleeping at night and feeling sleepy during the day
  • Difficulty bonding with your baby
  • Withdrawing from contact with other people
  • Problems concentrating and making decisions
  • Frightening thoughts – for example, about hurting your baby
Many women do not realise they have postnatal depression, because it can develop gradually.

Obsessive compulsive disorder
It's also very common for new mums to experience symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). These can include obsessions, which can bring about distressing thoughts, images and urges. These thoughts then often cause anxiety. Compulsions (repeating activities such as washing) are also common.

With perinatal OCD, symptoms often focus on the baby and it's common for mums to worry about their baby being contaminated with germs, which can even prevent them from holding their baby. They may also increase clothes washing and handwashing.  Sometimes, mums can experience distressing images and check on their baby repeatedly throughout the day and night.

Postpartum psychosis
Occasionally, some women experience postpartum psychosis, which develops shortly after the birth of their baby. Symptoms of postpartum psychosis include:
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Manic mood – talking very quickly
  • Feeling suspicious or fearful
  • Acting out of character
Postpartum psychosis is a rare but serious mental health condition that will need extra support in the community or in some cases, an inpatient stay on a mother and baby unit.

The most severe symptoms tend to last two to 12 weeks, and it can take six to 12 months or longer to recover from the condition. But with treatment, most women with postpartum psychosis do make a full recovery.

How can we help you?
Our Cheshire and Mersey Specialist Perinatal Service provides important mental health assessment and support for local women experiencing moderate to severe mental health issues during this time. Working as part of a Cheshire and Merseyside-wide service with Cheshire and Wirral Partnership and Mersey Care, our team covers Halton, Knowsley, St Helens and Warrington.

We provide one-to-one assessment and ongoing support for women who are pregnant or have a baby who is under 12 months, and:
  • Are currently experiencing complex or severe mental health problems
  • Have a history of or are at risk of developing severe or complex mental health problems during the perinatal period
We also offer one-off preconception appointments to provide advice, guidance and signposting to support women who are thinking about or planning to have a baby, who have a history of mental health problems. Women who are worried about the impact having a baby will have on their mental health or have anxiety about pregnancy, childbirth or becoming a parent can also access this one-off appointment.

You can be referred to our team by a healthcare professional such as your midwife, health visitor, GP or a mental health professional.