Mental and Emotional Health

Having a baby is a big life event. It's natural to experience a range of emotions during pregnancy and after giving birth. If you recently had a baby and you're struggling with your mental health, it may seem difficult to talk openly about how you're feeling. You might feel:

  • pressure to be happy and excited
  • like you have to be on top of everything
  • worried you're a bad parent if you're struggling with your mental health
  • worried that someone will take your baby away from you if you are open about how you're feeling

But if you are finding things difficult, it is important to know that having these feelings is not your fault. You can ask for help or support if you need it.

There is lots of support available within Hillingdon if you need it. The best way to see an improvement in your mental health is to ask for help!

Hillingdon Talking Therapies service is available for all over 18 who are registered with a Hillingdon GP.

Hillingdon Perinatal Mental Health Service offers assessment and treatment to women, pregnant people and those who have experienced pregnancy or birth experiencing mental health difficulties during pregnancy and within the first year after delivery.

During the first week after childbirth, many get what's often called the "baby blues". You can experience a low mood and feel mildly depressed at a time when they expect they should feel happy after having a baby. "Baby blues" are probably due to the sudden hormonal and chemical changes that take place in your body after childbirth.

Symptoms can include:

  • feeling emotional and bursting into tears for no apparent reason
  • feeling irritable or touchy
  • low mood
  • anxiety and restlessness

All these symptoms are normal and usually only last for a few days. But if any difficult feelings start to have a big effect on your day-to-day life, you might be experiencing a perinatal mental health problem. This may be new mental health problem, or an episode of a problem you've experienced in the past.

Depression after a baby is born can be extremely distressing. Postnatal depression is thought to affect around 1 in 10 mothers.

Many people suffer in silence. Their friends, relatives and health professionals don't know how they're feeling.

Postnatal depression usually occurs 2 to 8 weeks after the birth, though sometimes it can happen up to a year after the baby is born.

Symptoms such as tiredness, irritability or poor appetite are normal if you've just had a baby. But these are usually mild and don't stop you leading a normal life.

When you have postnatal depression, you may feel increasingly depressed and despondent. Looking after yourself or your baby may become too much. Emotional signs of postnatal depression may include: 

  • loss of interest in the baby
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • not being able to stop crying
  • feelings of not being able to cope
  • not being able to enjoy anything
  • memory loss or being unable to concentrate
  • excessive anxiety about the baby

Other signs of postnatal depression may also include:

  • panic attacks
  • sleeplessness
  • extreme tiredness
  • aches and pains
  • feeling generally unwell
  • anxiety
  • loss of appetite

Getting help for postnatal depression

If you think you have postnatal depression, don't struggle alone. It's not a sign that you're a bad parent or are unable to cope. Postnatal depression is an illness and you need to get help, just as you would if you had the flu or a broken leg.

Talk to someone you trust, such as your partner or a friend. Or ask your health visitor to call in and visit you. Many health visitors have been trained to recognise postnatal depression and have techniques that can help. If they can't help, they'll know someone in your area who can.

It's also important to see your GP. If you don't feel up to making an appointment, ask someone to do it for you.

Postpartum psychosis

Postpartum psychosis, which is also called puerperal psychosis, is extremely rare. Only 1 or 2 people in 1,000 develop a severe psychiatric illness that requires medical or hospital treatment after the birth of a baby. This illness can develop within hours of childbirth and is very serious, needing urgent attention.

Other people usually notice it first as the parent often acts strangely. It is more likely to happen if you have a severe mental illness, a past history of severe mental illness or a family history of perinatal mental illness. Specialist mother and baby units can provide expert treatment without separating you from your baby.

Most people make a complete recovery, although this may take a few weeks or months.

Postnatal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Postnatal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often the result of a traumatic birth, such as a long or painful labour, or an emergency or problematic delivery. It can also develop after other types of trauma, such as:

  • a fear of dying or your baby dying
  • life-threatening situations

The symptoms of postnatal PTSD can occur alone or in addition to the symptoms of postnatal depression.

The symptoms can develop straight after the birth or months afterwards.

It's important to talk to someone about how you're feeling. Your midwife, GP or health visitor will be able help you. If you're worried about talking to a health professional, consider asking a close friend or family member to come with you for support.

Postnatal Anxiety

Having anxious thoughts and worries now and again are natural, particularly in the early weeks after having a baby. For example, you may worry that something will happen to the baby or that you will do something wrong. However, these feelings tend to get less intense as you start to get used to taking care of a newborn, usually after 2 or 3 months. Postnatal anxiety is different in that it tends to be more distressing and persistent (doesn't go away).

Many new parents find it hard to talk about any negative feelings because they feel under pressure to be happy and think that everyone else is doing fine. But postnatal anxiety is a common mental health condition that needs treatment and non-judgemental emotional support. It’s important to talk to someone about how you feel. This could be your midwife, health visitor or GP.

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. People with anxiety often (but not always) have thoughts and worries that things have or may go wrong in some way. Everyone feels anxious sometimes, but some people find it hard to control their worries. Some people with anxiety also have panic attacks, which can be very frightening.

Some people develop obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours because of their worries or anxieties. They may also have intrusive thoughts of accidental or intentional harm coming to the baby. This is known as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

If you experience thoughts about harming your baby, this can be very frightening. But it's important to remember that having these thoughts doesn't actually mean you are going to harm your child.

You might be afraid to tell anyone about these feelings. But the more you can bring your feelings out into the open and talk about them, the sooner you can get support. This could be talking to a family member or friend, or to a health professional like your doctor or midwife.

Parents who did not give birth (fathers, adoptive parents, same sex parents, household support) can also experience depression and low mood in the postnatal period, in fact research shows it affects 1 in 10 new fathers.

These people can become depressed for many of the same reasons as new mums, including:

  • Extra responsibility with baby
  • Change to routine and lifestyle
  • Financial pressure
  • Stress on the relationship
  • Tiredness
  • Their partner is also suffering from postnatal depression

If you or someone you know appears to be struggling with postnatal mental health problems, it can be hard to ask for help, however getting help is the best way to get better. You can self-refer to talking therapies or ask your GP, midwife or health visitor for support.

If left untreated, mental health issues can have significant and long-lasting effects on the parent, the child, and the wider family.

Good emotional and mental health is important in helping to strengthen your child’s capacity for relationships, improve educational attainment, promote social inclusion, expand opportunities and improve general health and wellbeing. Conversely, emotional and mental ill health is a serious problem among children and adolescents and if left untreated during these years there is evidence that it can become an enduring life-long condition with associated life-limiting effects.

It is known that children need healthy, supportive and stimulating environments with a clear focus on, and commitment to, helping them develop high self-esteem and good relationships. With such support they are more likely to become confident, happy and ambitious people.

Keeping a record of your mood can help you identify the times when you need extra support, which may include possible changes to your routine. There may be times when you’re so tired and angry you feel like you can’t take any more. This happens to a lot of parents, so don’t be ashamed to ask for help!