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Perinatal mental health services

What is Perinatal Mental Health?

The perinatal period is usually defined as the time between conceiving a baby until the end of the first postnatal year. 20% of women (or 1 in every 5 women) experience mental health problems during this time, making this a relatively common experience. Women may have experienced mental health problems prior to pregnancy and/or develop mental health problems during pregnancy or in the postnatal period.

A wide range of mental health conditions can occur during this time, most commonly depression and anxiety. Research shows that 50% of women with depression go undetected and do not access treatment and support. There are some conditions specific to this time in a woman’s life such as tokophobia – a severe fear of child birth, and post-partum psychosis – a severe but treatable illness that occurs after having a baby.

It is not always possible to predict whether or not a woman is likely to experience mental health problems during this time, however, we do know that some groups of women are at much higher risk. For example, 25% (or 1 in 4) women with bipolar affective disorder experience post-partum psychosis.

Why is Perinatal Mental Health so important?

It is vital that women receive treatment and support as early as possible, we know that if left untreated, mental illness can have a significant and long lasting impact on the woman and her family. The perinatal period is often a window of opportunity, treating mental health problems at this time prevents avoidable suffering and isolation, strengthens families, ensures children have a healthy start, has economic benefits and  helps to prevent suicide,  a leading cause of maternal death in the UK..

What support is available?

Women with mild to moderate mental health problems can be supported by a range of services in primary care such as their GP, mid-wife, health visitor, primary care psychology service – IAPT (Increasing Access to Psychological Treatment) and in places like children’s centres. There are many third sector organisations that also provide a range of support services. See our ‘How to Get Help’ page for further details on the type of support these services can provide.

Women with more severe or complex illnesses, for example, schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorder should be seen by a specialist perinatal mental health team. Please see below for more information about these specialist teams.

What are Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Services?

Community Perinatal Mental Health Teams

Community Perinatal Mental Health Teams support mothers who are experiencing moderate to severe mental health problems in the perinatal period to recover in the community.  They also offer pre-conception advice to women with existing mental health problems who are planning a pregnancy. They are staffed by a range of professionals and offer family focussed interventions. These teams work closely with maternity services, health visitors, IAPT, GPs, other community services and 3rd sector organisations.

Mother and Baby Units

Mother and Baby Units provide specialist care and treatment when a mother is suffering from a mental illness and needs an admission to hospital. Mother and Baby Units enable the mother and her baby to remain together, supporting their attachment and bonding whilst the mother receives the care and treatment she needs to recover from her mental illness. They offer a range of family focussed interventions, with staff including psychiatrists, nurses, psychologists, nursery nurses and occupational therapists. Women can be admitted from 30 weeks of pregnancy until the end of the first postnatal year.

Further reading

Resources produced by London Perinatal Network:

  • The Perinatal mental health services for London: guide for commissioners outlines the components according to how they are accessed and commissioned; highlights key priorities for commissioning perinatal mental health services based on existing national standards; and considers London’s unique challenges and demographics.
  • Help and emotional support during pregnancy and the first year after having a baby is an information sheet for pregnant women and their families about support that psychological therapy services (IAPT) can offer. It was developed in collaboration with the London IAPT leads and is supported by London Clinical Networks.
  • The perinatal mental health care pathway, endorsed by the co-clinical directors of the Maternity and Mental Health Strategic Clinical Networks, outlines the different strands that sit across the perinatal mental health life span. Five major strands are included:
    • Maternity and neonatology
    • Maternal mental health psychiatry
    • Maternal mental health psychological therapies
    • Parent-infant mental health
    • Social care​

Visit NHS England’s website for:

Visit the Department of Health for:

Visit the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit website for related data:

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