perinatal mental health



The term ‘perinatal’ refers to the period before and after childbirth, usually defined as the time of pregnancy up to and including one year after giving birth. Physiological and emotional changes of pregnancy, labour and caring for a newborn baby can make this a vulnerable time for new mothers and fathers.

What we already know

Up to 20% of women develop a mental health problem during pregnancy or within a year of giving birth (Bauer et al. 2014). Depression is the most prevalent mental illness in the perinatal period, with around 10 to 14% of mothers affected during pregnancy or after the birth of a baby. Around 3% of new mothers are estimated to suffer with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Postpartum psychosis (also known as puerperal psychosis) affects around 2 in 1000 new mothers. Unlike milder forms of depression and anxiety, this severe condition is more likely to occur after childbirth and most cases are within the first few weeks of the baby being born (Hogg 2014).

Fathers also experience mental health difficulties during the perinatal period, although we know a lot less about this because the research is much thinner on the ground. Depression and anxiety are common in fathers during the perinatal period. We know that about 5-10% of men experience clinical depression during this period (Paulson et al, 2010), and 5-15% are affected by anxiety disorders (Leach et al, 2016).

The issue of perinatal mental illness is important not only because of the effect on the mother’s health, but the effects on the child’s health may impact on their emotional, cognitive and even physical development.

The LSE & Centre for Mental Health 2014 report estimated the expense to society of perinatal mental health problems to include:

  • One case of perinatal depression around £74,000
  • One case of perinatal anxiety around £35,000
  • One case of perinatal psychosis around £53,000

Note that these are estimated costs to society and not costs to the public sector directly. This report was discussed in further detail here.

Mental illness is also one of the leading causes of death in women in the perinatal period.

Areas of uncertainty

It is estimated that half of the cases of perinatal depression and anxiety in the UK are not identified, so there is uncertainty over how to improve detection rates, as well as interventions for when high risk women are identified .

What’s in the pipeline

For those women living in the UK, access to perinatal mental health services can be a postcode lottery. Women in around half the UK have no access to specialist perinatal mental health services and it is hoped that these limited services will expand. It is also hoped that all frontline healthcare workers coming into contact with this group of women will have specific training on perinatal mental illness (including midwives, health visitors and GPs).


Bauer A, Parsonage M, Knapp M, Iemmi V, Adelaja B. (2014) Costs of Perinatal Mental Health Problems. London School of Economics and Political Science [PDF]

Paulson JF, Bazemore SD. (2010) Prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers and its association with maternal depression: a meta-analysis. J Am Med Assoc. 2010;303(19):1961–9.

Leach LS, Poyser C, Cooklin AR, Giallo R. (2016) Prevalence and course of anxiety disorders (and symptom levels) in men across the perinatal period: a systematic review. J Affect Disord. 2016;190:675–86. [PubMed abstract]

Hogg S. (2014) Prevention in Mind. All Babies Count: Spotlight on Perinatal Mental Health. NSPCC [PDF]

Photo Credits

Felipe Fernandes CC BY 2.0


Written by: Josephine Neale
Reviewed by: Ellen Grimas
Last updated: Mar 2017
Review due: Sep 2017

Our perinatal mental health Blogs

Does taking antidepressants during pregnancy harm the child? Here are the facts


Ian Jones summarises a number of studies that consider the benefits and harms of antidepressants during pregnancy, including a recent cohort study that found that exposure to antidepressants in the womb is associated with a modest increased risk of speech and language disorders.

[read the full story...]

Maternal anxiety disorders in the postnatal period: what do we know?


Janes Iles and Annette Eneberi summarise a recent systematic review and meta-analysis of current research evidence on anxiety disorders and their prevalence amongst postpartum women.

[read the full story...]

Psychotropic medication in pregnancy: new evidence may help achieve a safe balance

pregnant with ipad

Joanne Wallace considers a recent health technology assessment on the risks and benefits of psychotropic medication in pregnancy, which supports previous associations between valproate and adverse child outcomes.

[read the full story...]

Perinatal mental health difficulties: does the internet have the answer?


Jane Iles summarises a recent systematic review of digital interventions for perinatal mental health, which highlights a mixed bag of heterogeneous studies in this field.

[read the full story...]

Bringing together physical and mental health: King’s Fund report on integrated care


Kirsten Lawson takes us through the key messages from the recent King’s Fund report on bringing together physical and mental health.

[read the full story...]

Suicide during the perinatal period


Katrina Witt reviews a new UK study, which finds that women who ended their own lives during the perinatal period were significantly more likely to have a recent onset of depression, and were less likely to be receiving active treatment, and particularly medication, at their time of their death.

[read the full story...]

Pregnancy and childbirth outcomes in women with intellectual disabilities between 1970 and 1989

Mother with newborn baby

Michelle Gregory looks at an analysis of an archival dataset, which wet out to investigate differences in pregnancy and childbirth outcomes for mothers with and without learning disabilities.

[read the full story...]

Postnatal depression: is it a unique mental health difficulty, or part of a trajectory of depression across the life-span?


Jane Iles appraises a 20-year prospective cohort study of postnatal depression, which follows women from adolescence, to young adulthood and on to motherhood. The research presents some compelling data about the risk of perinatal mental health difficulties in new mothers.

[read the full story...]

Periodontal treatment and adverse pregnancy outcomes


This study updates a previous meta-analysis adding 2 new studies and reassessing the findings. Overall, it suggests that the provision of periodontal treatment does not seem to prevent adverse pregnancy outcomes, although there is a suggestion of benefit in high risk populations.

[read the full story...]

Could partner factors reduce the risk of maternal depression and anxiety in the perinatal period?

Couple sitting on park bench

Paul Ramchandani and Ellen Grimas report on the findings of a recent systematic review and meta-analysis of modifiable partner factors associated with perinatal depression and anxiety.

[read the full story...]