I have an existing mental health problem, what do I need to do?

It’s a good idea to tell the doctor who looks after your mental health problem that you’re planning to get pregnant.

Woman looking concerned.

They will be able to talk to you about how being pregnant and giving birth might affect your mental health, and how any treatment you are on might affect you and your planned baby.

There are some types of medication that can affect your ability to get pregnant, and some others that have serious risks for the developing baby.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) lists the following in particular:

  • Antipsychotics:  Some types can make it harder for you to become pregnant – if this is happening it can be spotted through blood tests and you may be offered a different type.
  • Anticonvulsants: these are used to treat bipolar disorder epilepsy, and some are not suitable for women who are planning a pregnancy because there are serious risks to the baby. If you are taking valproate or carbamazepine and you are planning to have a baby or become pregnant, your doctor should advise you to stop the medication gradually and switch to another medication if needed.
  • Benzodiazepines: If you are taking a benzodiazepine and you are planning to have a baby, your doctor should talk to you about possibly stopping it gradually.
  • Lithium: If there is no safer option (such as an antpsychotic) and you are prescribed lithium, your doctor should tell you about how it might affect your baby if you take it while you are pregnant; breastfeeding could be a problem as high levels of lithium are secreted in breastmilk, so women should not breastfeed if they need to take Lithium.

When you become pregnant, tell the midwife or doctor looking after your pregnancy about your mental health problem, so that you and your baby can get the best care. 

Find out more about pregnancy when you already have a mental health problem.

If you have or had a serious mental health problem (such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, or have been admitted to a psychiatric hospital), the health professionals will work together to make a plan for your care during pregnancy, birth and afterwards.

Find support groups and resources for specific disorders here

Other resources

Sources

  1. NICE (2014) Information for the public: Mental health in pregnancy and the year after giving birth. http://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg192/resources/information-for-the-public-mental-health-in-pregnancy-and-the-year-after-giving-birth-pdf
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Last reviewed on February 1st, 2015. Next review date February 1st, 2018.

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