Starting a family: Maternal mental health in pregnancy and beyond

It is estimated that one in five women in Ireland will suffer from a depressive disorder in the antenatal or postnatal period

 

Pregnancy and the post-natal period are often heralded as “one of the happiest” times of a woman’s life and while that may be true for some, for others it can be an extremely difficult and isolating experience. It is estimated that up to 20 per cent, or one in five, women in Ireland will suffer from a depressive disorder in the antenatal (in pregnancy) or postnatal period.

About one in 10 new mothers will suffer from postnatal depression (PND); a debilitating condition which can develop at any stage in the 12 months post delivery.

Not to be confused with the “baby blues” which is typically short lived, if left untreated PND can last for many months or longer. Some symptoms of PND include: depressed mood or severe mood swings, severe anxiety, excessive crying, difficulty bonding with the baby, withdrawing from family and friends, loss of appetite or eating more than usual, fears of harming yourself or your baby and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.

It is estimated that 50 per cent of all new mothers with PND might have been suffering from depression while pregnant that wasn’t identified, underlining the importance of early diagnosis and treatment. Studies also show that between one and two women per 1,000 will develop a puerperal psychosis, a serious mental health condition that without treatment can lead to suicide and/or infanticide.

While extremely rare, suicide in pregnancy does happen and it is still one of the leading causes of maternal death.

Psychiatrists specialising in maternal mental health or perinatal psychiatry see women with a range of mental health illnesses. Dr Joanne Fenton is a consultant perinatal psychiatrist at the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital.

She says one of the most important things you can do to maintain your mental health in pregnancy and beyond is to “recognise the importance of self care. Don’t ignore the warning signs. Help is available and will improve your outcome of enjoying the time with your baby.”

The Samaritans can be contacted for free on 116123 or email joe@samaritans.ie

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