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Perinatal Mental Health

  • Mental health problems in the perinatal period effect 1 in 5 women
  • New fathers’ depression rates are double the national average for men in the same age group
  • 122,000 babies under the age of one are living with a parent who has a mental illness
  • The mental health of parents in the perinatal period can have long-term effects on the infant, especially in relation to their later emotional and behavioural development
  • Suicide is the leading cause of direct maternal deaths occurring within a year after the end of pregnancy in the UK.

As more evidence emerges about the effects of perinatal mental illness (PMI) on the mother, father and developing foetus/infant, the term perinatal mental health (PMH) is now commonly used to describe the emotional wellbeing of women, their children, partner and families from conception through pregnancy to 1 year following the child’s birth.

The term perinatal mental illness includes a range of conditions such as: depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Tokophobia, bipolar affective disorder, postpartum psychosis, eating disorders and personality disorders.

Infant Mental Health

“The young child’s capacity to experience, regulate and express emotions, form close and secure relationships, and explore the environment and learn. All these capacities will be best accomplished within the context of the care giving environment that includes family, community and cultural expectations. Developing these capacities is synonymous with healthy social and emotional development” (Zero to three 2001 cited Zeanah 2009).

This definition emphasises babies’ capacities as active agents who learn to manage their emotions in conjunction with their main carers. Infants are born socially interactive and their development is shaped by dynamic interaction between their biological make-up and their experience. Responsive relationships with consistent primary caregivers help build baby’s neuronal connections in the brain, regulate emotions and behaviour, and form secure attachments. These relationships are the foundation of mental health across the life-course.