How stressed or anxious should I be before I get help?

Although it’s normal to have periods of worry and stress when you’re pregnant, some women have feelings that don’t go away and this can be a sign of something more serious.

Woman looking concerned.

Mental health problems during pregnancy (antenatal/prenatal) and before and after birth (perinatal) are not uncommon.

It’s not uncommon for pregnant women and new mothers to suffer from depression or anxiety and sometimes from other mental health problems.

Sometimes, you can tell that something isn’t right and you are unwell. Other times, if your feelings started gradually, you may find it hard to tell where the line is between ‘normal’ difficult feelings and being unwell.

It's not unusual for your relationship to suffer, as worries about money, housing and providing a secure future for the family come to the fore.

Guilt for not feeling happy

Women who experience problems with their mental health in pregnancy (antenatal/prenatal) or after birth (postnatal) sometimes feel guilty or embarrassed about their feelings.

There can be an expectation from society that pregnancy is a time of joy and fulfilment. But it’s very common to have a problem with your mental health at this time. It’s not your fault, and health professionals won’t judge you for having these feelings.

Mental health problems in pregnancy are treatable, just as physical problems are. If you get treatment you should soon start to feel better emotionally.

Some women worry that their baby will be taken into care if they tell anyone the truth about how they really feel. Others worry that they haven’t felt that ‘instant bond’ with their bump or new born baby.

These are perfectly natural feelings and not uncommon. Health professionals are aware however that mental health issues can arise in pregnancy. They are there to support you not to judge you.

"I felt very tired, every time I sat down I'd doze off to sleep. I never seemed to feel that glowing period that everybody talks about."Emily. Read more...

Talk to someone

Talk to your midwife or doctor if:

  • you feel anxious most of the time for more than two weeks.
  • anxiety is making you feel physically ill with fast heartbeat, fast breathing, sweating, feeling faint, feeling sick and diarrhoea.
  • you have panic attacks.
  • you have unpleasant thoughts that keep coming back and you can’t control them.
  • you find yourself repeating an action (like washing, checking, counting) to feel better.
  • you are so afraid of giving birth that you don’t want to go through with it.

Just as extra care is needed in pregnancy to make sure you are physically healthy, the same applies to your mental health. Describing your symptoms can help your healthcare team make sure you get the right care for you and your baby.

Find out more about where and when to get support with your mental health.

Telling your midwife, GP or health visitor about how you feel is an important step on your road to recovery. They will want to ask you some questions to understand a bit more about what you have been experiencing.

This will help them to discuss with you what treatment and support is available to help you feel better.

"That was all I needed, to get it out, to speak to someone, feel that I wasn't completely alone."Sarah. Read more...

If you had a mental health problem in the past

If you had a mental health problem in the past, pregnancy can bring the problem back or make it worse, particularly if you stop taking medication when you find out you are pregnant.

Before you do this you should talk to your doctor. They will talk to you about how your pregnancy could affect your mental health problem and how any treatment could affect the baby.

If your treatment has risks for your baby, they can suggest a different type of treatment.

Find out more about the support and treatment options that might be available

Other resources

Sources

  1. Royal College of Psychiatrists, Mental health in pregnancy, London RCP, 2012. Also available at: http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/problemsdisorders/mentalhealthinpregnancy.aspx(accessed 1 April 2014)
  2. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Antenatal and postnatal mental health: clinical and service management guidance, clinical guideline 45, London NICE, 2007. Also available at: http://publications.nice.org.uk/antenatal-and-postnatal-mental-health-cg45 (accessed 7 April 2014)
  3. Huizink AC et al, Stress during pregnancy is associated with developmental outcome in infancy. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 2003; 44: 810–818
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Last reviewed on February 1st, 2015. Next review date February 1st, 2018.

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