Maternal mental health including perinatal

Content last reviewed: 20 January 2017


“More than 1 in 10 women develop a mental illness during pregnancy or within the first year after having a baby and this can have a devastating impact on them and their families (1)

Pregnancy and the arrival of a new baby usually heralds positive happy changes and challenges. For some this could be overshadowed by mental illness. Pregnancy and childbirth is a major life event, with potential consequences on maternal mental wellbeing. Maternal mental disorders can impact the woman, the baby and the rest of their family. This poses an important public health challenge of ensuring investment to every mother affected and to provide the best start in life for every child.  

There is a wide scale of disorders that can start in pregnancy or the post partum period, these include depression, anxiety, severe depressive illness and psychosis. Not only are women at risk of developing mental illness during the pregnancy or in the post natal period for the first time, women are also prone to suffer exacerbation or relapses of any pre- existing mental illnesses (2), both of which can have potentially serious consequences.

During pregnancy and the postnatal period, anxiety disorders including panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and tokophobia (an extreme fear of childbirth) can occur on their own or can coexist with depression. Psychosis can re-emerge or be exacerbated during pregnancy and the postnatal period and women with bi-polar disorder are at particular risk, but postpartum psychosis can occur in woman with no previous psychiatric history (3).

During pregnancy and in the year after birth women can be affected by a range of mental health problems which, if left untreated, can have a devastating impact on them and their families. When mothers suffer from these illnesses it increases the likelihood that their children will experience behavioural, social or learning difficulties. Evidence highlights that perinatal depression raises the chances of children and adolescents having depression themselves (4).

This needs analysis considers mental health in the maternal, post-partum and perinatal stages. Adult mental health and child mental health are considered in separate chapters.



(1) Maternal Mental Health: Everyone’s business

(2) Perinatal Maternal Mental Health Services. Council Report CR88 April 2000. Royal College of Psychiatrists. London

(3) NICE (2014) NICE Clinical Guideline 192: Antenatal and postnatal mental health: clinical management and service Guidance

(4) Pearson RM, Evans J, Kounali D, et al.(2013)  Maternal depression during pregnancy and the postnatal period: risks and possible mechanisms for offspring depression at age 18 years. JAMA Psychiatry 2013:70:1312-19

Last updated Tuesday, 17th January 2017