Relationships and support networks

Having good support around you is important before, during and after a pregnancy. Find out how to use that support and what to do if you do not feel you have it.

Having a good support network is very important when you are planning a pregnancy with a serious mental illness. The people around you can have a big effect on how you manage pregnancy and after your baby is born.

What is a support network?

A support network can be made up of anyone who cares about you. So, yours might include:

  • parents
  • siblings
  • spouse or partner
  • family members
  • friends
  • neighbours
  • colleagues.

You may have a partner, family or friends who you trust, and who know all about your mental illness. 

“My mum has been amazing, and in fact three days after I’d had the baby, she turned up at our house. I’d been advised not to wake up for night feeds because there was a fear that I might tip over into illness. So, she actually did the night feeds and stayed on a camp bed in the front room. She’s been a huge source of support.”

This support network can provide practical and emotional help, which is vital at this time of your life. 

If you don’t have a partner, or other people around to support you, your GP can tell you about support services and groups in your area. 

”I don’t have any family around me. I have some friends but having the support of the perinatal mental health team was crucial to me in ways I didn’t really understand until afterwards.”  

How can my partner, family or friends support me?

Often, loved ones will want to offer support, but they may not know what you need. Some people will worry about getting in your way. Others who have not been through pregnancy will not realise that you need support.

For these reasons, it’s good to ask for help instead of waiting for it. 

”When I had my last baby I had my mum here so I had my sleep. She’s not coming to England this time because I have a good friend here and she’s coming to cook and iron. She’s my best friend; she’s a good support.” 

You could talk to the people you trust about how they can help, perhaps by:

Support with general living may also help your mental wellbeing. Friends and family can help with this during and after the birth, perhaps by:

  • cooking healthy meals
  • taking the baby or other children out so you can get some sleep
  • doing household chores such as cleaning or laundry
  • spending time with the baby, while you take a break – even if it’s just to have a bath or shower
  • being there for you to talk to or to go for a walk with.

Support for your partner or family

People who are close to you may feel they need support or advice as well. We have guidance for partners on how to support you after the birth. The following websites can also help:

Learn about how partners can look after their own mental health after the birth

Building networks for after the birth

Expecting or having a baby is a time when people can find it easier to build new friendships. There are lots of chances to connect with people who are at the same stage of life. 

Start early by joining local pregnancy or antenatal groups once you are pregnant. This can mean you have a group of people nearby to talk to when your baby is born. 

After you’ve had your baby (or even before), you can ask your health visitor for details of local parent and baby groups. You can also find out about these at your local library, children’s centre, or online (just search for ‘baby group near me’).

Many of these sessions are free or only have a small fee. Many libraries and cafes hold singing and story sessions. You may have a local children’s centre that runs parenting courses, playgroups and other family groups. These are all great places to chat to other new parents. 

You don’t need to tell people that you have a mental illness – just having people to talk to about your pregnancy or a new baby can help with your wellbeing. Once you build trust, you can decide how much you want to tell your new friends.

What if I’m having relationship problems?

Mental health problems can affect your relationship with your partner. Planning a pregnancy can make things even harder for some couples. 

If there are any struggles in your relationship, try to get help as early as you can, ideally before you get pregnant. 

If problems start during pregnancy, then ask for help before your baby is born. Getting the support you need now will help you and your baby.

Speak to your GP, mental health professional or family nurse if you feel there is a lack of support at home. They can tell you what help there is that’s local to you. This may include:

  • relationship counselling
  • general counselling, which may cover mental health as well as relationships
  • child and family services
  • helplines and online support.

The charity Relate also offers relationship counselling, although you’ll probably have to pay something.

Read more about relationship problems and pregnancy.

Domestic abuse

More than 1 in 5 people experience domestic abuse or violence at some point in their lives. The abuse may be from a partner or a family member.

Abuse doesn’t have to be physical violence. It can be sexual, emotional, psychological or financial. Being controlling and bullying (coercive) is also a form of abuse.

Physical abuse may include:

  • slapping, hitting, punching, biting or kicking
  • pushing or shoving
  • burning you
  • choking or holding you down
  • throwing things.

You may be being sexually abused if someone:

  • touches you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable
  • makes unwanted sexual demands
  • pressures you into having sex 
  • pressures you into not using contraception, or takes off a condom in the middle of sex ('stealthing')
  • hurts you during sex.

Signs of emotional abuse may include someone:

  • putting you down
  • accusing you of flirting or having an affair
  • telling you what to wear or what to do
  • calling you names
  • making racist or sexist comments about you
  • denying the abuse is happening, or blaming you.

Psychological abuse may include someone:

  • making threats about harming your children or taking them away
  • isolating you from friends and family
  • belittling you or putting you down
  • questioning your memory or sanity
  • reading your emails, texts or letters.

Financial abuse may involve someone:

  • not letting you work
  • not letting you access your own money
  • making you explain what you’ve spent money on
  • not giving you enough money to buy items you need, such as food
  • making you beg for money.

Controlling and bullying behaviour may include someone:

  • making you depend on them, by cutting you off from friends and family
  • stopping you getting support, for example from health professionals
  • controlling your daily life, such as what you wear, who you can see or where you can go
  • monitoring you online, using spyware or GPS trackers
  • repeatedly making threats, humiliating you, or hurting you so you do what they want.

Many people with a mental illness have experienced some form of domestic abuse. Sometimes, abuse starts or gets worse during or after pregnancy. The person may try to stop you going to your pregnancy or mental health appointments.

Domestic abuse doesn’t just affect you, but also your unborn baby and other children. During pregnancy, it increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, low birthweight, infection, injury to the baby, and even death.

It may be very hard to recognise or admit what’s going on. But domestic violence or abuse can happen to anyone. You’re not alone.

Where can I get help for domestic abuse?

If you’re being abused, you can talk to any health professional, or a domestic abuse advocate or advisor. If you ever feel like you’re in danger, call 999 right away.

No one will judge you, or tell you what to do, but it’s vital that you get support. 

Your GP or mental health professional can give you details of organisations who can support you. They can also provide phone numbers for local and national helplines. 

If you’re pregnant, you could speak to your midwife or family nurse.

Women’s Aid have an online directory of local support services.

Your domestic violence advocate and healthcare team will talk to you about how to keep safe. They may be able to change the length and time of your appointments, to make it easier for you to get to them, and to give you more time to talk about the abuse.

It will be kept confidential and won’t appear in your hand-held pregnancy notes. Let the team know if you have a certain phone number that is safe for them to contact you on.

You can also call the Refuge 24-hour domestic violence helpline on 0808 2000 247, or chat to Women’s Aid online. They will give you confidential advice and support.

Women’s Aid have a survivor’s handbook with practical support and information for women experiencing domestic abuse, plus advice on how to cover your tracks online.

Myths about domestic abuse

Myth: It’s my fault my abuser acts this way.

Fact: Domestic abuse or violence is never the victim’s fault. Many abusers blame their partners for their abuse or arguments. But the truth is that they choose to act this way.

Myth: My baby will be taken away by social services if I tell anyone about it.

Fact: This doesn’t happen very often, and is always a last resort if the baby is thought to be at risk. If your healthcare team thinks you should see social services, they will explain the reasons why. This doesn’t mean that your baby will be taken from you. The social worker is there to make sure you and your baby are safe. They will support you to make sure you get the advice and help you need.  

Only a court can decide to remove a baby from the parents, and this is a last resort when all other options have been explored. Talking to someone about domestic abuse, and getting help so you can keep your baby safe, will be seen as proof that you are doing what you can to protect your baby.

The most important thing is that you are trying to make your home safe for your baby. By seeking help for domestic abuse, you’ll be helping to protect yourself and your baby. 

Myth: I am in a same sex relationship so there can’t be domestic abuse.

Fact: Domestic abuse can happen in all types of relationships, no matter your gender or sexual orientation. The charity Galop offers support for anyone who is in an LGBT+ relationship and experiencing abuse.

Learn more about domestic abuse, and find further support.

More information and support

For Baby's Sake 

A charity that works with families to break the cycle of domestic abuse so parents can give their baby the best start in life. 

Provides a national LGBT+ domestic abuse helpline on 0800 999 5428 or through [email protected].

Offers a free 24-hour domestic violence helpline on 0808 2000 247.

Women’s Aid
You can access 24-hour domestic violence help in the online chat or though [email protected].


NHS (2023) Feelings, relationships and pregnancy. Available at: (Accessed 27 March 2024) (Page last reviewed 28/02/2023. Next review due 28/02/2026)

NHS (2023) Relationships after having a baby. Available at: (Accessed 27 March 2024) (Page last reviewed 13/01/2023. Next review due 13/01/2026)

NICE (2023) Domestic abuse. Available at: (Accessed 27 March 2024) (Page last reviewed 09/2023)

ONS (2018) Domestic abuse: findings from the Crime Survey for England and Wales: year ending March 2018. Available at: (Accessed 27 March 2024) (Page last reviewed 22/11/2018)

NHS (2022) Domestic violence and abuse. Available at: (Accessed 27 March 2024) (Page last reviewed 30/12/2022. Next review due 30/12/2025) 

Jahanfar, S., Howard, L. M., & Medley, N. (2014). ‘Interventions for preventing or reducing domestic violence against pregnant women’. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 2014(11), CD009414.

NICE (2010) Pregnancy and complex social factors: a model for service provision for pregnant women with complex social factors. Available at: (Accessed 27 March 2024) (Page last reviewed 22/09/2010)

Family Lives. (2024) Social Services and your family. Available at: (Accessed 27 March 2024) (Page last reviewed 02/2024)

Review dates
Reviewed: 27 March 2024
Next review: 27 March 2027