What is Postnatal Illness?

A woman is more likely to suffer mental illness following childbirth than at any other time in her life.

Kendall et al.

A spectrum

One in two women experience mood disturbances during pregnancy or in the postnatal period.

Whilst these 'baby blues' usually go away on their own within a few weeks, for one in ten women, a longer lasting and more disturbing postnatal mental illness develops, including sudden onset of conditions such as those below, as well as the exacerbation of pre-existing conditions:

For a significant proportion of women experiencing Postnatal Illness, the condition will be severe - meaning there is a real threat to life. In fact, Postnatal Illness is a leading cause of indirect maternal death in the UK; this is despite being treatable and having a good prognosis for recovery should a woman be able to access appropriate health services.

Every three years the government produces a confidential enquiry into maternal deaths in the UK. These enquires highlight the high human cost of perinatal mental illness: the 2006-2008, 2000-2002 and 1997-1999 triennial confidential enquiries found that suicide and psychiatric factors were some of the leading causes of indirect maternal death in the UK.

Wherever it appears on the spectrum, it is clear that untreated Postnatal Illness can produce adverse outcomes. The mother-baby relationship can be affected with consequent long-term impacts, particularly for the child's development (strong attachment between a mother and baby during the first year of life is crucial to support brain development and future resilience). In severe cases, untreated postnatal mental illness can lead to tragic loss of life. Having timely access to appropriate treatment is essential.

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