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Can having a baby change your mental health?

Having a baby is one of the most monumental events in a person’s life. The addition of a new family member brings joy but also many changes. One significant way having a baby impacts new parents is through effects on mental health.

How does pregnancy affect mental health?

Pregnancy brings many physical and emotional changes that can also influence mental health. Hormone changes are believed to play a role in mood changes during pregnancy. Other mental health effects may stem from factors like:

  • Physical discomforts of pregnancy
  • Morning sickness
  • Fatigue
  • Anticipating delivery and parenthood
  • Relationship changes
  • Work and financial stress

It’s common for expectant mothers to experience anxiety, depression, mood swings, stress, and other mental health symptoms during pregnancy. However, pregnancy can also exacerbate existing mental health conditions like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and major depression.

How does postpartum affect mental health?

After giving birth, new mothers remain at an increased risk for mental health problems. Postpartum mental illnesses can develop anytime within the first year after childbirth. The most common include:

  • Postpartum depression – Depression with symptoms like sadness, loss of interest, changes in appetite, fatigue, and trouble concentrating.
  • Postpartum anxiety – Excessive worrying and anxiety around the baby’s health, one’s parenting abilities, and other issues.
  • Postpartum OCD – Obsessive thoughts related to cleanliness, order, the baby’s safety, etc.
  • Postpartum psychosis – A rare disorder involving delusions, hallucinations, and extremely disordered thinking.

These conditions are believed to be influenced by the hormonal fluctuations, sleep deprivation, and the significant life changes that come with having a newborn. A lack of social support can also contribute to postpartum mental health problems.

What factors influence risks?

Certain factors can increase a woman’s risk of developing perinatal mental illness:

  • A personal or family history of depression or anxiety
  • Complications during pregnancy or delivery
  • Stressful life events during pregnancy or postpartum period
  • Trauma history
  • Isolation or lack of social support
  • Relationship problems
  • Unplanned/unwanted pregnancy
  • Low self-esteem
  • Socioeconomic disadvantage
  • Neurotic personality traits

How many new mothers are affected?

Perinatal mental illnesses are surprisingly common. Research estimates that:

  • 1 in 5 women develop depression during pregnancy or postpartum
  • Around 15% experience postpartum anxiety
  • 2-3% develop obsessive-compulsive symptoms
  • 1-2 per 1000 experience postpartum psychosis

Here is a table illustrating the prevalence of different perinatal mental health conditions:

Condition Prevalence
Depression 20%
Anxiety 15%
OCD 2-3%
Psychosis 0.1-0.2%

Do fathers experience perinatal mental illness too?

While less studied, many new fathers also struggle with mental health before and after having a child. Estimates suggest around 10% of new fathers experience postpartum depression. Contributing factors may include:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Adjusting to new responsibilities
  • Financial stress
  • Relationship changes
  • Labor and delivery worries
  • Feeling left out of the bonding experience

New fathers are also at risk for postpartum anxiety, OCD symptoms, and even postpartum psychosis in rare cases. Societal stigmas and attitudes that depression is a “woman’s illness” can prevent men from seeking help.

What effects can untreated perinatal mental illness have?

Left untreated, mental health problems after giving birth can have significant consequences. Potential effects include:

  • Disrupted maternal-infant bonding
  • Impaired baby development
  • Relationship problems
  • Self-care and parenting deficits
  • Alcohol/substance abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts

Studies show children whose mothers experienced postpartum depression may have more behavioral, cognitive, and interpersonal problems. There are also associations with lower IQ scores, delayed language acquisition, and increased risk for later mental illness.

How are perinatal mental illnesses treated?

Effective treatments are available for postpartum mental health conditions. Treatment plans may include:

  • Medication – Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications are sometimes prescribed, under a doctor’s supervision.
  • Psychotherapy – Talk therapy techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy can help manage symptoms.
  • Support groups – Sharing experiences with other new moms can help women feel less alone.
  • Self-care – Getting adequate sleep, healthy food, exercise, and time for enjoyable activities supports mental health.
  • Home visits – Having a nurse or other professional visit to provide education on infant care and parenting can help build confidence and skills.

Treatment plans are tailored to each woman’s specific symptoms, needs, and medical history. In serious cases like postpartum psychosis, hospitalization may be required to stabilize an acute mental health crisis.

What’s the importance of screening?

Because perinatal mood and anxiety disorders often go undetected, screening is recommended to improve detection rates. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) advises clinicians provide psychosocial screening at least once during the perinatal period to assess depression and anxiety. Screening tools include questionnaires about mood, anxiety, and daily functioning.

Some key reasons screening is important:

  • Helps normalize discussions about mental health
  • Allows early detection and treatment
  • Identifies women at risk for postpartum conditions
  • Prevents long-term effects on mothers and babies

In addition to formal screening, physicians should educate pregnant and postpartum women about warning signs warranting prompt evaluation. Warnings signs include:

  • Extreme mood swings
  • Excessive crying
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Feeling numb, empty, or disconnected
  • Feeling irritated or angry
  • Worrying excessively
  • Feeling overwhelmed

What helps prevent perinatal mental illness?

While not always possible to prevent, some key protective factors include:

  • Social support – Having supportive friends, family, or professionals to lean on.
  • Self-care routines – Taking time for healthy food, sleep, exercise, and enjoyable activities.
  • Therapy – Working with a therapist before or during pregnancy to manage pre-existing or antepartum mental health symptoms.
  • Parenting education – Learning parenting skills helps boost confidence and readiness.
  • Bonding – Staying close to your baby through activities like skin-to-skin contact supports attachment.
  • Low stress – Reducing major life stressors around pregnancy and postpartum period when possible.

What’s the takeaway?

Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety are very common during the perinatal period spanning pregnancy to 12 months post-delivery. Contributing factors range from hormone changes to sleep deprivation, postpartum adjustment difficulties, and lack of support. Left untreated, perinatal mood disorders can impair mother-child bonding and have long-term effects on child development.

The good news is that increased awareness and screening efforts are leading to earlier detection and treatment. A combination of medication, therapy, support groups, and self-care can help women effectively manage symptoms. With compassionate care and social support, even mothers who develop postpartum mental illnesses can thrive and build strong, healthy bonds with their little ones.


Having a baby represents an exciting yet challenging life transition. Along with the joys of new parenthood, many mothers and fathers grapple with mental health issues before and after delivery that require professional treatment. From prenatal anxiety to postpartum depression, perinatal mood disorders are exceedingly common but often go undetected without proper screening. With compassionate care, understanding, and access to resources, families can overcome perinatal mental health struggles. Destigmatizing these issues is critical to getting new parents the help they need to enjoy parenthood and nurture the lifelong health of their children.