Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week 2024

Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week (Monday 29 April to Sunday 5 May 2024) is a weeklong campaign dedicated to discussing mental health issues during pregnancy or after childbirth. Becoming a parent is a major life change and it can take time to adapt. You might experience a range of emotions, from feeling a bit down or anxious to feeling completely overwhelmed and finding it hard to cope.

In Sheffield, we are committed to directing parents and families to support services and advocating for those affected by Maternal Mental Health to access the information and help needed for recovery.

Remember, you are not alone if you are feeling low. Talk to your midwife, GP, or health visitor. They can provide support and guide you to local services that can help. Your local Family Hub can also assist with any challenges you are facing.

Visit the Parent and Infant Mental Health page for links to advice and support available in Sheffield.

Join us in celebrating Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week at your local Family Hub!

  This year’s theme is ‘Stronger Together’, so our Family Hubs have partnered with the Parent and Infant Relationship Service (PAIRS) based at Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, and local perinatal peer support organisations Light Perinatal Peer Support and Steel City Dads to share information about the wide range of maternal and perinatal mental health support in Sheffield.

We will be running two free pop-up stalls at Family Hubs within Sheffield for families to attend, and these will be taking place at:

Wednesday 1st May | 8:30am – 1pm | Early Days Family Hub, 71 Palgrave Road, S5 8GS

Thursday 2nd May | 8:30am – 1pm | First Start Family Hub, 441 Firth Park Road, Sheffield, S5 6HH

Our pop-up stalls will have:

  • Members of staff from PAIRS, Light and Steel City Dads who are happy to offer non-judgemental advice and support.
  • Information and resources about the perinatal and infant mental health support available in Sheffield.
  • Colouring in and craft tables for children to enjoy!

We look forward to seeing you there!

Understanding maternal mental health, the symptoms and support

You may have heard the terms "perinatal mental health" and "maternal mental health" used interchangeably. Both refer to mental health during pregnancy and up to two years after giving birth.

Maternal mental health refers to the emotional wellbeing of people who are pregnant, trying to get pregnant or have just given birth.

Some people may have already experienced mental health problems before pregnancy that can then become more intense whilst pregnant or, people can develop mental health problems for the first time during/after pregnancy.

Partners - including fathers, co-mothers, and step-parents - may themselves experience perinatal mental health difficulties. Support can be accessed locally via the parent and infant mental health page

Adjusting to parenthood

Becoming a new parent can feel both exciting and challenging. It's normal to need time to get used to all the changes. Some people may feel happy, excited, shocked, angry, sad, confused, or scared. These feelings are normal and can be connected to things like missing your old life, past experiences with pregnancy, money, family dynamics, or not feeling ready to be a parent.

These feelings are also impacted by the increase in progesterone and oestrogen the body produces during pregnancy. These hormones help keep pregnancies healthy but can also cause mood swings, irritability and feeling teary, which can make the experience even more overwhelming.

Transitioning into parenthood can be a challenging time for some people and might increase the risk of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and low confidence. Talking openly about these issues and seeking peer support can help people during this complicated time.

Overview of maternal mental health difficulties

Remember that you're not alone. Up to 1 in 5 women develop mental health problems during pregnancy, or in the first year after childbirth. 

If you are worried about the way you are feeling, please talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP. 

Visit the Parent and Infant Mental Health page for links to advice and support available in Sheffield.

Prenatal anxiety (also known as antenatal anxiety) is a common experience that refers to persistent and intense feelings of anxiety during pregnancy. Both parents can be affected by prenatal anxiety.

It's normal to experience some anxiety during pregnancy as you navigate this new phase of life. However, if these worries begin to significantly impact your day-to-day life, seeking help is important.

Physical symptoms of prenatal anxiety may include headaches, teeth grinding, sweating, panic attacks, restlessness, rapid breathing, and an elevated heart rate.

Emotional symptoms can include feeling tense, nervous, unable to relax, repeatedly dwelling on negative experiences, excessive concern about your baby's well-being, feeling disconnected from the world, or feeling disconnected from yourself.

Many factors can lead to a traumatic birth, such as emergency c-sections, stillbirths, premature births, difficult forceps deliveries, feeling uncared for during labour and/or being left in pain.

Research shows that 4% to 5% of women develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after childbirth, which translates to about 30,000 women a year in the UK. It's important to note that PTSD can also affect birth partners, though not everyone receives a formal diagnosis. Therefore, the term "birth trauma" is used for anyone negatively impacted by a traumatic birth experience.

Symptoms of birth trauma include flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, distress when reminded of the trauma, sweating, pain, panic, irritability, emotional numbness, avoiding thinking about the traumatic event, guilt, feeling unsafe, sadness, detachment and difficulty bonding with your baby.

Postpartum Psychosis is a rare but serious mental health condition that can occur after giving birth, affecting approximately 1 in 1,000 mothers.

Many people experience mood changes after childbirth, known as the ‘baby blues,’ which can include feeling sad, tearful, or anxious. However, these symptoms are normal and typically resolve within a few days. Postpartum psychosis is very different to the ‘baby blues’ and is considered a serious medical emergency.

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis usually appear suddenly within the first 2 weeks after giving birth, often within hours or days. In rarer cases, symptoms can develop several weeks after delivery. Symptoms may include hallucinations (seeing, hearing, smelling, or feeling things that aren't real), delusions (believing unlikely suspicions, fears, or thoughts), manic mood (feeling overly excited, thinking and speaking rapidly), low mood (feeling withdrawn, tearful, lacking energy, anxious, having trouble sleeping, or being agitated), or a mix of both high and low moods, accompanied by confusion.

Postnatal anxiety refers to persistent and intense feelings of anxiety that occur after the birth of a baby.

It's common to feel worried about looking after a new born baby, you may have anxious thoughts about something bad happening to the baby or be worried about doing something wrong. However, these feelings and thoughts tend to go away after a few months. Postnatal anxiety differs from normal worrying as it begins to significantly impact daily life.

Symptoms of postnatal anxiety may include panic attacks, avoidance of certain places or activities, excessive caution, seeking constant reassurance from loved ones or healthcare professionals, restlessness, irritability, feeling constantly on edge, uncontrollable worry, and feeling a sense of dread.

Postnatal depression is a common mental health condition and type of depression that can occur anytime within the first year after giving birth.

It's normal for many people to feel tearful and down after giving birth; however, these feelings shouldn’t persist longer than 2 weeks. If you are persistently experiencing low mood after giving birth, you may be experiencing postnatal depression.

Parents can often feel pressured to be happy all the time because they have a new baby. However, experiencing postnatal depression does not make you a bad parent - it is not your fault, and it can happen to anyone.

Some symptoms of postnatal depression include feelings of sadness, lack of interest in hobbies, low energy levels, difficulty sleeping, finding it hard to care for yourself and your baby, withdrawing from loved ones, and experiencing intrusive or scary thoughts.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder. Perinatal or birth-related OCD occurs when you experience OCD during pregnancy or in the first year after giving birth.

OCD can be understood in three main parts: obsessions (uncontrollable thoughts, images and worries that appear in your mind), emotions (usually distress caused by the obsessions), and compulsions (repetitive actions that you do to reduce the distress caused by the obsessions).

It's normal to worry about your baby's well-being and to want to protect your baby during pregnancy and after giving birth. However, if you begin to experience obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours that affect your daily life and well-being, you may be experiencing perinatal OCD. The obsessions and compulsions are likely to relate to feelings about being a parent and your baby.

Some common perinatal obsessions include intrusive thoughts about hurting or sexually abusing your baby, fear of accidentally causing serious harm to your child, fear of death during childbirth and fear of making the wrong decision – for example, about vaccinations or medical treatment. These thoughts can be very upsetting and frightening, but they are not your fault. Having an intrusive thought does not mean that you want to act on it or that you will act on it.

Some common perinatal compulsions include excessive washing and cleaning of toys and clothes, constant checking on your baby, avoiding changing soiled nappies because you're worried about accidentally touching your baby inappropriately, keeping your baby away from others to protect them from harm or contamination, and seeking repeated reassurance about your baby's safety.

Tokophobia is a severe fear (phobia) of childbirth that goes beyond the normal anxiety many people feel about giving birth. While it's normal to have some apprehension about childbirth, when someone has Tokophobia this fear is so extreme that it makes them not want to go through with having a baby

People may experience Tokophobia for various reasons, such as a history of sexual abuse, a general fear of medical procedures, exposure to traumatic birth stories, or previous traumatic birthing experiences.

Common symptoms of Tokophobia include difficulty sleeping, nightmares, panic attacks, intense fear related to childbirth (including fears of birth defects, stillbirths, or maternal deaths), and overwhelming dread at the thought of pregnancy and childbirth.

An eating disorder happens when someone uses food in unhealthy ways to deal with their feelings. This can mean eating too much, not eating enough, or constantly worrying about weight and appearance. These behaviours can really affect daily life and health.

Common eating disorders include Anorexia (restricting food intake), Bulimia (eating and then deliberately being sick or taking laxatives) and Binge Eating Disorder (overeating).

During pregnancy, a person’s body changes a lot, this can lead to an increase in anxiety around weight gain and body shape.  Having an eating disorder during pregnancy can increase the risk of miscarriage, slowing or stopping a baby’s growth, complications during labour and/or the baby being born before it is fully developed.

Signs of an eating disorder can include having an overly strict relationship with food, avoiding social situations where food is involved, deliberately making yourself sick, over exercising, over eating or under eating.

It's really important for people with eating disorders who are pregnant or want to get pregnant to get support to make sure they and their baby stay healthy.

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that severely affects your mood.

Most women and birthing people with bipolar disorder have healthy pregnancies and babies. But having the condition increases your risk of developing postpartum psychosis, postnatal depression or experiencing a relapse. Some medication for bipolar disorder can also carry risks when you are pregnant or breastfeeding so it’s important to speak to your doctor. Do not stop taking any medication before you have spoken to a medical professional as this can lead to withdrawal, or make symptoms worse.

Symptoms of Bipolar disorder can include depressive episodes (feeling very low, suicidal thoughts, lacking energy, loss of interest in everyday activities, feeling irritable), and manic episodes (feeling very high, overactive, easily distracted, hallucinating, engaging in risky behaviour) – between these episodes you may also have a period of stable mood.