Maternal Mental Health Challenges

It’s not just postpartum. It’s not just depression.

Maternal Mental Health Challenges2020-05-15T21:11:08+00:00

Mental health issues are the MOST COMMON complications of pregnancy and childbirth, affecting approximately 1 in 5 women during pregnancy or the first year after being pregnant. It’s not just postpartum.  It’s not just depression.

  • 85% of women experience the Baby Blues, mild mood changes after giving birth that should resolve in 2-3 weeks.
  • 20% of women experience more serious depression, anxiety, and other maternal mental health challenges during pregnancy or the first year after being pregnant.
  • 75% of women experiencing maternal mental health challenges do not get the care needed for recovery.
  • 800,000 women will experience maternal mental health challenges each year in the United States.
  • More women will experience maternal mental health challenges than the combined total of other complications of pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Maternal mental health challenges are temporary and treatable. Most women fully recover with proper care.
  • Maternal mental health challenges are caused by changes in hormones, biology, psychology, and environment.
  • Recovery from maternal mental health challenges usually includes a combination of self-care, social support, talk therapy, and medication. In rare cases, hospitalization might be necessary.
Often referred to as “postpartum depression”, maternal mental health issues include not only depression but also a range of anxiety disorders.  The full range of illnesses include

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Psychosis

Learn more about these illnesses at Postpartum Support International.

Most new mothers (up to 85%) will experience temporary mood swings, tearfulness, and irritability during the first days after being pregnant.  Known as the Baby Blues, these mild mood changes  should resolve by themselves within 2-3 weeks.

Signs and symptoms of maternal mental health challenges include:

  • Feeling sad or depressed
  • Feeling overly irritable or angry with those around you
  • Difficulty bonding with baby
  • Feeling anxious or panicky
  • Having problems with eating or sleeping
  • Having upsetting thoughts that you can’t get out of your mind
  • Feeling as if you are out of control or “going crazy”
  • Feeling like you never should have become a mother
  • Worrying that you might hurt your baby or yourself

If you or someone you know might be experiencing a maternal mental health issue, contact Postpartum Support International.

Maternal mental health disorders are bio-psycho-social illnesses most often caused by a combination of stressors.  Some women are predisposed to anxiety, depression, or other mental health disorder, while others are sensitive to the hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy and immediate postpartum period.

Biological risk factors include:

  • Personal or family history of mood or anxiety disorders
  • Reproductive history that might include severe premenstrual symptoms, fertility treatments, miscarriage or stillbirth
  • Sensitivity to hormonal changes
  • Young age / teenage pregnancy
  • Medical issues such as thyroid dysfunction or anemia
  • Sleep disruption / lack of sleep

Psychological risk factors include:

  • Perfectionist tendencies
  • Difficulty with transitions
  • Unrealistic or rigid expectations
  • Negative attitude toward pregnancy / baby
  • Low self-esteem

Social risk factors include:

  • Lack of support, particularly from spouse or partner
  • Social isolation
  • Low income or immigrant status
  • Financial stress
  • Domestic violence
  • Sexual abuse

You are not alone.  You are not to blame.  With help, you will be well.

When left untreated, maternal mental health disorders can have profound adverse effects on women and their children, ranging from increased risk of poor adherence to medical care, exacerbation of medical conditions, loss of interpersonal and financial resources, smoking and substance use, suicide, and infanticide.

Risks during pregnancy.  Pregnant women experiencing maternal mental health challenges are more likely to have poor health habits and poor prenatal care, and also more likely to abuse substances, thereby increasing the risk of poor birth outcomes for the infant, including:

  • Preeclampsia
  • Low Apgar scores
  • Small head circumference
  • Preterm labor, low birth weight
  • Prolonged labor, forceps delivery, fetal distress
  • Elevates cortisol level in newborn
  • Lower dopamine / serotonin levels in newborn
  • Newborns crying more often; more difficult to console

Risks postpartum.  Women experiencing maternal mental health challenges are more likely to have fewer positive interactions with baby, decreasing response to baby’s cues, and breastfeeding challenges, thereby increasing the risk of poor health outcomes for the child, including:

  • Impaired mother-infant interaction, attachment, and later development
  • Behavioral, cognitive, and emotional problems
  • Suicidal behavior, conduct problems, and emotional instability requiring psychiatric care

Most concerning, SUICIDE is one of the leading causes of death for women in the first year after pregnancy.

If you or someone you know might be experiencing postpartum depression or a related maternal mental health disorder, please know that you are not alone, that you are not to blame, and that with help you will be well.

Talk to your spouse / partner / family / friend / healthcare provider.


    • Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the USA, anytime, about any type of crisis.
    • 1-800-273-8255
    • Call for yourself or someone you care about; free and confidential; network of more than 140 crisis centers nationwide; available 24/7


  • Postpartum Support International (PSI) is the world’s leading organization in providing hope and help to mothers, fathers, and families affected by maternal mental health challenges.
  • PSI staff and trained volunteers respond to calls, emails, and text messages, providing connections to local resources.
  • Call 800-944-4773 or text 503-894-9453