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HealthInfo Canterbury

Getting help for mental illness during & after pregnancy

Treatments for mental illness during pregnancy or after your baby is born may be a bit different to treatments for other adults with mental illness. Both you and your baby will be affected by treatments, so doctors also have to consider the needs and safety of your baby, during your pregnancy and while you're breastfeeding.

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

On the other hand, 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 first with your doctor.

Online therapies and education

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

Psychological treatments (talking therapy)

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

A psychologist, counsellor or brief intervention counselling service (BIS) worker can provide talking therapy and emotional support.

Your GP can help you find a therapist or refer you for some free counselling. You can find a counsellor, therapist or psychiatrist in the Family Services Directory. The Mental Health Education and Resource Centre (MHERC) can also help. Some therapy options require payment, but your GP can talk through the approximate cost with you,

Medications

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

If you're already taking medication and are thinking of becoming pregnant, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor to make sure that no adjustments need to be made.

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

Specialist therapists

Canterbury DHB's Specialist Mental Health Services (Mother and Baby Unit) is for mothers who have serious mental illness during pregnancy or in the year after their baby is born. You'll need a referral from your GP to access the Mother and Baby Unit.

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

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

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by Consultant Psychiatrist, Mothers and Babies Service, Canterbury DHB. Last reviewed February 2021. Page updated August 2021.

Sources

Page reference: 416282

Review key: HIMIP-416276