Postnatal depression and mental health as a parent: 10 myths

We break down the common myths about pregnancy, parenthood and mental health.

Myth 1: Pregnant women are deliriously happy and never get depressed

There’s no doubt that pregnancy is an exciting time of life, but it’s also a hugely challenging one. It’s hardly surprising that mental health problems at this time are common.

About 10% to 15% of pregnant women are affected by mental health problems during pregnancy. At least one in 10 women suffers from mental health problems in pregnancy and postnatally.

If you continue to worry and feel low, you could be at risk of developing pregnancy related mental health problems. These issues include postnatal depression, anxiety disorders or other severe mental illnesses.

If you feel worried, always talk to someone you trust, whether it’s your partner, friends, family, midwife or GP.

Myth 2: It’s just the ‘baby blues’, I’m fine

Many women get the ‘baby blues’ during the first week after childbirth, when they feel down or depressed. But this feeling might continue for a long time, get worse or appear at a later stage up to a year after you have your baby. If so, it can be a sign of something more serious like postnatal depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There’s a danger this can still be labelled as the ‘baby blues’, which means a lot of mums don’t seek help.

Myth 3: If I’m diagnosed with a mental health issue, my baby will be taken away from me

Sadly, this is a huge misconception among women

Sadly, this is a huge misconception among women and it’s why a lot of women suffer in silence. However, what will actually happen is that women will be given medication or counselling to help them feel better. The aim is to provide treatment that will support you, your baby, your partner and your families.

If you need psychiatric inpatient care and need to be admitted into a mother and baby unit, you can also stay together with your baby.

Myth 4: If I tell anyone about my mental health worries, they will think I’m a failure, a bad parent or that I don’t love my baby

Experiencing a mental health problem does not mean you are a failure or a bad parent. In fact, seeking medical help and treatment means you are doing the best for your baby so it’s actually a sign of good parenting.

Myth 5: Mental health problems only affect certain people

It’s untrue that mental health problems affect only people of certain ages, social backgrounds or relationship statuses. On the other hand, some parents are at a higher risk of postnatal depression, such as teenage mums or women who have a history of mental illness. Whatever your situation, always talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP if you don’t feel well emotionally.

Myth 6: I will be forced to take medication

You will never be forced to take medication if you are diagnosed with mental health problems. Instead, you’ll discuss the benefits and downsides of different treatment options with your healthcare provider. That way, you and your healthcare provider will find what’ll work best for you.

You can always try different options too: just speak to your GP or psychiatrist if you want to continue, change or stop your medication.

Myth 7: I’m the only one who feels this way

It’s very common for women to experience mental illness after giving birth but, sadly, many still keep quiet about it.

You might feel as though you’re alone but you’re absolutely not. It is important to talk about your condition to your GP and those close to you. This will help you get treatment as soon as possible.

Myth 8: Only mums suffer from mental health issues like postnatal depression

A significant number of dads also struggle with the transition to fatherhood. In fact, 28% of men report above-mild levels of depressive symptoms just after they became dads.

In traumatic births where dads witness their partner and baby being at risk, many men suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Read more about dads and postnatal depression.

Myth 9: There’s nothing I can do to help a parent I know experiencing mental health issues

If you think your friend, partner or relative is having a difficult time, there is lots you can do.

Help and support from those close to you is essential if you’re suffering from mental health problems. Whether that’s listening or giving you practical help by cooking for you or helping you with some chores. No-one needs to feel alone.

Myth 10: I’m never going to feel better

Recovery is a slow process but it does happen. Many things can contribute to stages of recovery. This includes an accurate diagnosis, effective medication, supportive psychotherapy, and your own growing knowledge of your condition and how to live with it.

Some other things that might help your wellbeing are eating a healthy diet, having plenty of rest and finding time to do what you enjoy. Exercising and getting regular sleep are also helpful.

Further information

Remember that as a new mum, you’re entitled to a six-week check with your GP that’s just for you and not your baby. You should be given the time and the space to talk about how you’re feeling, as well as how you are physically. It’s something we fought for and won with our #HiddenHalf campaign.

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

Mind, a leading mental health charity, provides information on a range of mental health topics including postnatal depression and has an infoline for support: 0300 123 3393.

#PNDHour is an online peer support group that runs every Wednesday at 8pm via the Twitter account @PNDandMe. Anyone can join in to discuss topics about antenatal and postnatal depression, such as self-care, medication and seeking help. It’s run by a mum called Rosey who also blogs about her own experiences with antenatal and postnatal depression, as well as raising awareness of perinatal mental illness, at PND and me.

Tommy’s, a charity that fund research into stillbirth, premature birth and miscarriage, has information about mental health in pregnancy as well as a Wellbeing Plan to help parents talk more openly.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has information on mental health in pregnancy.

Effective psychotherapeutic treatments may be found in your area. Check out the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy, the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) and the British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC) for a list of recommended therapists. Well Scotland or Niamh (in Northern Ireland), leading providers of mental health information in their regions, for further information on PND.