New study finds ‘1 in 4 pregnant women have mental health problems’

Kings College London published a new study today, which found that more women suffer with mental health during pregnancy than previously thought.

Pregnant woman looking worried

Pregnancy news, 04/01/2018

A new study from King’s College London, led by Professor Louise Howard, examined how common mental health problems or disorders are during pregnancy.

Their findings show that mental health issues are far more common in pregnancy than previously understood. They now believe that 1 in 4 women are suffering, as opposed to the 1 in 10 figure previously thought.

Of the 545 women interviewed, it was observed that around 11% were experiencing depression and 15% anxiety. More surprisingly, as many as 2% of women had eating disorder symptoms and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Other disorders detected, though far less commonly, included post traumatic stress (PTSD) and bipolar.

‘In clinical practice, maternity professionals need to identify whether or not a woman has any mental disorder, not only mood disorders which until recently have been the main focus of concern.’ Professor Louise Howard

Pregnancy can be an exciting and joyful time, but it can also be a time of anxiety. Women need emotional support both during pregnancy and afterwards. Maternal mental health problems, if untreated, can have serious implications on the well being of the mother and baby  – not only during the pregnancy, but also into childhood and in later life.

For example, women with severe mental illnesses are more likely to give birth too early, to babies with a low birth weight. 

This places real importance on early diagnosis, and swift, effective treatment.

Pregnancy after a loss can be an especially anxious time.  Experiencing a loss is felt deeply, and for a long time – yet often, women are not given the support they need to cope. The fear of losing another baby can be overwhelming and, for these parents, extra care and support is needed.

Our midwifery manager, Kate, says:

'This study has shown just how common mental health problems are during pregnancy, and these concerns should be taken just as seriously as any physical concerns. Early detection and intervention is crucial to ensure that necessary and sufficient support can be put in to place to help pregnant women and their families. It is crucial that every woman is given the opportunity to talk about their mental health in a non-judgemental and safe space throughout their pregnancy.'

Tommy's approach

As part of our commitment to improving the health of mothers and babies, Tommy's provides information for pregnant women that aims to improve their health and that of their babies. This includes comprehensive information on mental health. As well as developing information, resources and case studies, we have integrated it and signpost to it from our general pregnancy information so that women who have no previous experience of mental health problems are not excluded. 

Tommy’s conducts research into mental health and wellbeing, but we know that more is needed so that we can understand how to help women during pregnancy, and how to best support women and their families after losing a baby.

Read more about how we have put mental health in parity with physical health.

Find out more about mental health and pregnancy


Howard, Ryan, Trevillion, Anderson, Bick, Bye, Byford, O’Connor, Sands, Demilew, Milgrom and Pickles, British Journal of Psychiatry The accuracy of the Whooley questions and the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale in identifying depression and other mental disorders in early pregnancy.

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