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“Remember, you are not alone. There is strength in seeking support.”

Maternal mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and substance use disorder
are the most prominent complications of pregnancy, child birth, and postpartum; affecting 1
in 5 women. According to the CDC, 1 in 8 women experience postpartum depression, and
50% of them are untreated.
As part of World Mental Resilience Program's Better Health for Mothers and Babies
initiative, this page is designed to provide information, resources and best practices to better
support families and hospitals in addressing maternal mental health. Our efforts also
recognize the importance of promoting good mental health for children and adolescents.
Many females have psychological well-being issues during pregnancy or after giving birth. It
can happen to anybody. Depression and anxiety are the most widely recognized
psychological well-being issues during pregnancy. These affect a significant number of
pregnant females. Especially helpless are those females with histories of mental ailment who
stop psychotropic drugs during pregnancy. Mental health issues can also be associated with
abortions, broken homes, problems between the couple, unhealthy work-life balance, undue
stress, physiological disorders, and other associated comorbidities. Pregnancy is traditionally
considered a good time with good feelings, but it is not so. Until a few years ago, the only
importance given to mental health was after childbirth (preference was given to disorders
such as postpartum depression {PPD}).

Nowadays, mental health is given its due attention right from conception, to antenatal care, to labour, to the postpartum period. Patients are educated on the importance of mental health and its short-term and long-term effects on the mother and the baby. The baby father is educated because he can play a crucial role. Various researches show that children born to mothers who suffer from mental health ailments such as depression are low-birth- weight babies. Societal problems such as poverty, overpopulation, overcrowding, and poor hygiene can also adversely affect the mother mental health. Some valuable solutions can be medication such as antidepressants, talking to a therapist, exercising, talking to close friends and family, couple counseling, and de-stressing. A phenomenon called postpartum depression is also prevalent and is given its due importance.

Worldwide about 10% of pregnant women and 13% of women who have just given birth experience a mental disorder, primarily depression. In developing countries this is even higher, i.e. 15.6% during pregnancy and 19.8% after child birth. In severe cases mothers’ suffering might be so severe that they may even commit suicide. In addition, the affected mothers cannot function properly. As a result, the children’s growth and development may be negatively affected as well. Maternal mental disorders are treatable. Effective interventions can be delivered even by well-trained non-specialist health providers.

Overview of Maternal Mental Health Conditions

Up to eighty percent (80%) of women will experience the “baby blues” after giving birth, tied to sudden shifts in hormones.

Women who experience the baby blues may feel sad, have mood swings and crying episodes. The Blues are not considered a disorder as the symptoms often resolve within a few days. If symptoms persist, beyond two weeks, it’s likely the mother is suffering from depression.

(Also referred to as maternal depression, peripartum depression or perinatal depression.) A Major Depressive Disorder with onset during pregnancy or within 4 weeks of birth though in practice it is applied to depression occurring within the first year from birth. Up to twenty percent (20%) of women experience clinical depression during and/or after pregnancy.

  • Maternal depression is treatable during pregnancy and postpartum.
  • Symptoms can range from mild to severe and, mothers with pre-existing depression prior to or during pregnancy are more likely to experience postpartum depression.
  • Maternal depression is treatable and risk can also be mitigated.
  • Symptoms generally include sadness, trouble concentrating, difficulty finding joy in activities once enjoyed, and difficulty bonding with the baby.

Research shows that the onset of depression occurs before delivery for the majority of women. Depression onset occurred prior to pregnancy among 27% of women, during pregnancy for 33%, and in the postpartum period for the remaining 40%. Therefore, it is important to screen for depression throughout the pregnancy and during the postpartum period.

Dysthymia is defined as a low mood occurring for at least two years, along with at least two other symptoms of depression.

  • Women with pre-existing dysthymia may be at a higher risk for severe symptoms/depression during the perinatal period.

Up to fifteen percent (15%) of women will develop anxiety during pregnancy or after childbirth. 

  • Anxiety is treatable during pregnancy and postpartum.
  • Symptoms often include restlessness, racing heartbeat, inability to sleep, extreme worry about the “what if’s” - like what if my baby experiences SIDS, what if my baby falls, what if my baby has autism, etc.; extreme worry about not being a good parent/being able to provide for her family.

More studies are needed to identify a consistent rate of prevalence for perinatal OCD. One study found that perinatal OCD affects 2 in 100 women during pregnancy and 2-3 in every 100 women in the year after giving birth. Perinatal OCD is present in about 2-3% of all parents, though recent studies believe the number may actually be higher.


OCD includes obsessions (an unwanted thought or feeling) that a person has an urge to relieve through an action or a “compulsion.” OCD “obsessions” can include intrusive thoughts (see below for more information about intrusive thoughts). About 50% of women with OCD have intrusive/unwanted thoughts about intentionally harming their infant (e.g., throwing the baby).6 It is important to note that although obsessions often contain alarming content they do not represent a psychotic process, where mothers are at a higher risk of harming themselves or their infants/children.

The prevalence of postpartum PTSD is 3.1%.7 Most often, this illness is caused by a real or perceived trauma during delivery or the postpartum period.

  • These women are plagued with intrusive memories and flashbacks of the event.

Expectant mothers who experience miscarriage or stillbirth are also at risk for postpartum mental health disorders including PTSD in addition to grief or complicated grief. Globally 10-15 percent of known pregnancies, end in miscarriage and 1 percent of all pregnancies end in still birth (March of Dimes). According to the CDC Black mothers face double the stillbirth rate as White women in America. Native Americans face the second highest stillbirth rates.

Women may suffer from an extreme inability to sleep, where a mother simply isn’t tired. She generally feels elated, and enthusiastic about completing tasks and motherhood. This is considered a state of hypomania or mania which may or may not be tied to an underlying bipolar disorder.

A state of mania is not in and of itself dangerous but because mania/severe lack of sleep may lead to impulsive and high-risk behaviour and can be a precursor to psychosis, it’s critically important that the mother receive clinical support from a psychiatric provider experienced in reproductive mental health.

Postpartum psychosis is a rare/disorder symptom and occurs in approximately 1 to 2 out of every 1,000 deliveries, or approximately 0.1-0.2% of births.

The onset is usually sudden, most often within the first 2 weeks postpartum.

The most significant risk factors for postpartum psychosis are a personal or family history of bipolar disorder, or a previous psychotic episode. Postpartum Psychosis is considered a medical emergency due to the potential for a mom to harm herself or her baby.

70-100% of women (and their partners) have “intrusive” thoughts surrounding childbirth/the postpartum period. These thoughts may include thoughts of infant harm (e.g., dropping the baby or a woman herself harming her baby). These thoughts are unwanted (ego-dystonic) and recognized by the woman as inappropriate and concerning, (which is why these thoughts alone are not cause for alarm). It is important to note that although obsessions often contain alarming content, they do not represent a psychotic process, where mothers are at a higher risk of harming themselves or their infants/children. Intrusive thoughts are not considered a “disorder.” When symptoms become persistent and are disabling, they are generally thought to be tied to OCD.


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