PARENTS
01/05/2018 11:45 EST | Updated 01/05/2018 11:45 EST

1 In 4 Mothers Have Mental Health Problems Before They Give Birth: Study

Mental illness is associated with adverse outcomes for mothers and their babies.

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By now we've all heard about the prevalence and risks of postpartum depression.

But a new U.K. study is warning that mental health issues are common in new moms before they even give birth.

One in four pregnant women have mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a study published Jan. 4 in the British Journal of Psychiatry. Mental illness in mothers is associated with adverse outcomes for both the mom and the baby all the way through adolescence, the researchers noted.

"This study shows how vital it is for pregnant women to be asked the right questions at the right time with a non-judgmental space to be listened to," Maria Bavetta, co-founder of Maternal OCD, said in a news release.

"I wish I had been given the opportunity to share my thoughts in a way that would have helped me access specialist maternal mental health services quicker — this is a duty we need to fulfill as every mum should have the right to be the mummy they want to be."

The study looked at 545 pregnant women in London who were seen by a midwife for their prenatal care. Researchers tested two techniques for identifying mental health problems in pregnancy: a brief two-question approach asked by midwives, and a 10-item survey that women completed themselves, according to a National Institute for Health Research news release.

Using these techniques, researchers found that 27 per cent of the pregnant women suffered from mental health disorders: 11 per cent had depression, 15 per cent had anxiety disorders, 2 per cent had eating disorders, 2 per cent had obsessive-compulsive disorders, and a small percentage had post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorders.

Rates in Canada are also high

About 15 per cent of Canadian women were diagnosed with depression or treated with antidepressants before they became pregnant, according to 2014 research published by the Public Health Agency of Canada. And, in the 12 months before childbirth, 12.5 per cent of women reported that most days "were very stressful," the agency reported.

"It is important to assess pregnant women's mental health because it can affect not only the woman's health, but also her newborn's health and development," the agency said.


In December, the Canadian Paediatric Society tweeted a reminder to "ask about parent mental health," noting in a linked handout that about 10 per cent of pregnant women experience depression.

"During pregnancy, hormone changes can affect brain chemicals and cause depression and anxiety. Sometimes, pregnant women don't realize they are depressed," the Canadian Paediatric Society wrote in the handout.

These disorders are often missed because people incorrectly believe pregnant women have a glow, researcher Louise Howard of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King's College London, told the Daily Mail.

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"This is a myth," Howard said.

"People think that pregnancy is protective of mental health, and then the post-natal period is a trigger for problems. But in reality problems start during pregnancy or even earlier — it is very common."

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