When you’re thinking about having a baby, planning ahead can help you and your baby stay well and help you feel more in control.
Some women enjoy pregnancy but others find it more difficult. This is true of all women, whether or not they have a mental illness. By planning ahead, you will have the support you need in place so you can get help quickly.
Tips for staying well during pregnancy:
- Accept offers of help – family and friends can give you practical help, which can give you time to rest and catch up on sleep. For example, they could look after older children.
- Talk to others – there are many support organisations who can give you information or put you in touch with other women with mental illness. Some of these organisations are listed at the bottom of this page.
- Go to your antenatal appointments – your mental illness may mean you sometimes miss an appointment, which can mean you miss out on important health checks. If you can’t get to an appointment, contact your midwife and ask to book another appointment.
- If you take medication for your mental illness, don’t stop taking it without speaking to your GP or perinatal mental health team. Stopping your medication suddenly can make your symptoms come back or get worse.
- Talk to your perinatal mental health team about the chances of getting postpartum psychosis or a relapse of your mental illness after the birth. Ask what support and treatment you would have if this happened.
- You and your family or partner can look out for signs that your mental illness symptoms are coming back – speak to your GP or perinatal mental health team if you’re worried about any symptoms.
- Plan what treatment and care you would or wouldn’t like to receive during pregnancy and childbirth if your mental illness means you can’t make decisions.
- If you have other children, you can also get support from your health visitor or family nurse.
- If you have problems sleeping, you may find it helps to go to bed at a similar time each night and try to do something relaxing before bed. If you’re still having sleep problems, your GP may be able to help.
- Reduce stress – you could think about reducing your hours at work or try relaxation exercises, such as yoga or meditation.
- Avoid any big life changes, such as moving house, during or straight after pregnancy.
- Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be the perfect mum. It’s OK if you decide not to breastfeed or if you need help from family and friends.
You can use the online Wellbeing Plan to help you start thinking about how you feel and what support you might need in your pregnancy and after the birth.
More information and support
Action on Postpartum Psychosis
Information and support for women with postpartum psychosis and their partners.
Bipolar UK: Women and Bipolar
Information about pregnancy and childbirth for people affected by bipolar disorder.
Provides support and advice for anyone experiencing mental illness.
Provides pregnant women and new mums with specialist counselling for emotional or mental health difficulties.
Symptoms and management of ADHD or autism (ASD) when planning a pregnancy
Healthy food and regular activity can improve mental wellbeing as well as being very important for the development of a future baby.
Having a baby is a positive and exciting experience for many women. But if you have had a traumatic experience in the past, you may find some of the difficult feelings come back when you’re planning a pregnancy or become pregnant.
When you have a serious mental illness the earlier you start planning your pregnancy the better
There is a higher chance that your mental illness will come back or get worse at this time than at other times of your life.
When you are managing a serious mental illness there’s lots of support to help you through pregnancy and beyond. Find out about the people and teams that help you here.
Your support network is very important when you are planning a pregnancy with a serious mental illness. The people around and close to you can support you and this can have a big effect on how you manage pregnancy and after.
The 5 most important things you could do before you get pregnant if you are managing a serious mental illness and are planning a pregnancy
Information for you about different types of treatment for mental health illness if you have a serious mental illness and are planning to become pregnant.
Information about when to try for a baby and fertility when you have a serious mental illness
If you have bipolar disorder and want to get pregnant it’s important to talk to your doctor before you start trying.
If you take drugs regularly it can be really tough to stop, but now that you are planning a pregnancy you have a big chance to stop safely.
It’s safest to not drink at all while you’re planning a pregnancy but if you’re finding this hard, there’s lots of help available.
Information about giving up smoking while on mental health medication
Other organisations and resources who can give support if you are planning a pregnancy with a serious mental illness
You can plan ahead for the early days with a newborn by thinking about what help you might need to keep well and to look after your baby. With the right support, women with mental illness can look after their children just as well as any other parent.
It’s hard to describe childbirth. Labour is different for everyone and your experience and feelings about the birth can depend on what you expect compared to what happens.
Life becomes busier and more chaotic when there is a baby involved. Returning to work is a challenge for most new parents, but it can be harder if you have a mental illness. Being prepared and having support can help.
- NHS (2018) Mental health problems and pregnancy.www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/mental-health-problems-pregnant/
- National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2014, updated 2020) Antenatal and postnatal mental health: clinical management and service guidance. Clinical guideline [CG192].