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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Getting help for mental illness during & after pregnancy

Whai āwhina mō te mate hinengaro hei te hapūtanga me hei muri ake

Treatment for mental illness during pregnancy or after your pēpi (baby) is born may be a bit different to treatment for other adults with mental illness.

Both you and your pēpi will be affected by the treatment. This means doctors also have to consider the needs and safety of your pēpi. This applies during your pregnancy and while you are breastfeeding.

You might start medication sooner if you have a newborn pēpi. This is because the effect of an untreated mental illness can cause long-term harm to your child's development.

But if your mental illness is mild and if it looks like non-medication options might work, you might decide to avoid medications to reduce your baby's exposure to them. You would need to discuss this with your doctor.

Online therapy and education

These courses can encourage you to get help. They can also help you understand your illness and motivate you with goals.

Psychological treatment (talking therapy)

Talking therapy helps to different degrees, depending on the mental illness.

A psychologist, counsellor or brief intervention talking therapist can provide talking therapy and emotional support.

Your general practice team can help you find a therapist or refer you for some free counselling. You can find a counsellor through the New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC). You can also try the Mental Health Education and Resource Centre (MHERC) or the Family Services Directory. Some counsellors offer funded or subsidised treatment, but you may have to pay part or all of the cost.

Medications

Many medications used to treat mental illness are safe, both during and after pregnancy. It could be more harmful to your pēpi to leave more serious depression and anxiety untreated. Your doctor can talk to you about the risks and benefits of medication.

If you are already taking medication and are thinking of becoming pregnant, talk to your doctor. You may need to change your medication or adjust the amount you are taking.

You can find advice about medication use in pregnancy on the UK site bumps. You can also find out more about the medicines you are taking in Medications for mental health issues.

Specialist therapists

Te Whatu Ora Waitaha Specialist Mental Health Services has a Mother and Baby Unit. It is for mothers who have serious mental illness during pregnancy or in the year after their pēpi is born. You will need a referral from your general practice team to access the Mother and Baby Unit.

The unit may also see pregnant woman who are at risk of becoming seriously unwell. Also, mentally unwell fathers if they are the primary caregiver of a pēpi.

On the next page: Community support for mental illness during & after pregnancy

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed March 2024.

Sources

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Review key: HIMIP-416276