How Do Postnatal Anxiety And Perinatal Mental Health Affect You And Your Pregnancy?
Postnatal anxiety and perinatal mental health problems refer to those experienced by mothers during or after pregnancy. According to the NHS, perinatal mental health problems affect up to 27% of new and expectant mums, making this a relatively common issue. Fortunately, there are resources available to help with pregnancy-related mental health issues, as well as many things that you can do at home to help yourself.
Dr Agnieszka Klimowicz, Consultant Psychiatrist and perinatal specialist at The London Psychiatry Centre, explains, “Don’t be afraid to seek help if you have an existing mental health problem before you get pregnant, or if you develop problems during or after your pregnancy. Left untreated, mental health problems can have a long-lasting impact on the mother, child and family, and should be addressed with the right support; however, some mums worry about seeking help in case their baby gets removed from their care. This is very rarely the case. Finding the right support will provide a much better outcome for you and your baby than if you were to suffer in silence.”
What Is A Perinatal Mental Health Problem?
Perinatal mental health problems are those which occur during pregnancy, or at any time in the year following birth. ‘Antenatal’ refers specifically to problems experienced before the birth of the child, and ‘postnatal’ refers to the period following the birth; however, the word ‘perinatal’ can be used in place of both.
These mental health problems may be pre-existing, either continuing into the pregnancy or resurfacing during or after pregnancy following a period of mental wellness. They may also be new problems which develop perinatally, or can be a result of or be made worse by a traumatic birth, miscarriage or stillbirth.
Examples Of Common Mental Health Problems Experienced During Or After Pregnancy
Any mental health problem experienced during or after pregnancy can be a perinatal mental health problem, but the most common include:
- Postnatal anxiety – with this condition, you may feel constant feelings of worry, and may also experience physical symptoms such as an inability to relax, poor sleep and panic attacks.
- Postnatal depression – this type of depression can leave a mother feeling detached from her baby and unable to properly bond. It can lead to low mood, feelings of worthlessness, daytime tiredness, irritability and changes to diet.
- Perinatal OCD – the two parts of an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are obsessions and compulsions. In relation to perinatal OCD, these obsessions and compulsions are likely to revolve around parenting and your baby. Obsessions include intrusive thoughts about hurting or abusing your baby, or fears about accidents that might bring the baby harm. Compulsions may include constantly checking the baby, excessively washing the baby or his/her clothes or toys, or keeping the baby away from other people.
- Perinatal PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur when a traumatic event has taken place. Perinatally, this could be abuse that occurs during pregnancy; a miscarriage or stillbirth; a long or difficult birth; undergoing emergency care. Symptoms include flashbacks, sleep problems, panic attacks, difficulty concentrating and aggressive behaviour.
- Postnatal (or postpartum) psychosis – this is a rare but serious condition characterised by psychotic, manic and depressive episodes. You may experience periods of hallucination and delusion; elation and unusually high energy; and depression and suicidal thoughts. You can develop postnatal psychosis even if you have no history of mental health issues.
Can Perinatal Mental Health Issues Affect Your Partner?
Perinatal mental health problems are certainly not restricted to the pregnant partner. If you are having a baby with someone who is experiencing poor mental health, it may be hard to see them going through these difficulties, and you may even feel drained trying to care for them. You might also be prone to anxiety or depression as a result of looking after your newborn, even if your partner is mentally well.
If you can, communicate about your mental health with your partner and your support network. There are also many online groups and charities to turn to if you require extra help, such as Postpartum Men, National Childbirth Trust, Pink Parents and PANDAS Dads.
What Causes Perinatal Mental Health Issues?
Anybody can tell you that having a baby is a life changing experience; however, there is little discussion about the impact that this may have on your mental health. A new child will impact your career, relationships, sleep schedule, diet, finances and general day-to-day life. On top of this, the body goes through hormonal changes during pregnancy and after giving birth, which can impact your mental wellbeing despite there being no ‘tangible’ cause. It’s no wonder that so many new parents experience poor mental health.
Some of the most common causes of perinatal mental health issues include:
- Genetic predisposition
- Previous history of mental health problems
- Trauma during the pregnancy or birth
- Lack of support
- Hormonal changes
Those who are part of a minority group, such as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, a person with an ethnic minority background or someone who is disabled, may be disproportionately impacted by perinatal mental health problems due to societal stigmas and poorer access to mental health services.
How To Combat Perinatal Mental Health Problems
In the case of mild perinatal mental health problems, self-care is often the most helpful route to take for prevention or treatment. Here are some ways in which you can care for your perinatal mental health:
Preparing For Pregnancy
If you know that you are predisposed to mental health problems, or if you are concerned that you may be in any way affected, consider the following tips:
- Ensure that you have everything you need to feel safe and comfortable during your pregnancy.
- Organise your birth plan and consider alternative scenarios so that you know what to do if something goes wrong. This can help you feel more in-control.
- Build your support network and talk to friends and family about your concerns so that they feel prepared to help when needed.
- Try to stick to a routine and make time for yourself.
- Stay active, even if you don’t feel like it. This can support your physical and mental health, as well as the health of your baby, in the long term.
- Accept help from others – there is nothing wrong with accepting practical support.
- Recognise that many of your friends and family may be very excited to see your baby, and that this may make you feel unacknowledged. When you feel like this, try giving them a gentle reminder that you need a little support.
- Don’t put pressure on yourself to appear like you are coping if things are not going so well.
- Sleep whenever possible, such as when your baby is sleeping, or when he/she is being looked after by your partner or a trusted friend or family member.
Support Services For Perinatal Mental Health Problems
If you require extra help for your perinatal mental health, you may wish to talk to your GP, midwife or health visitor in the first instance, who may be able to provide practical advice or refer you to a specialist.
At The London Psychiatry Centre, we can provide specialist support for new parents experiencing mental health problems. With a wealth of experience, our consultants can provide you with the best mental health care possible, without the wait.
To get in touch with our team, contact us using the details below: