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 (RCM, 2015). About 10% to 15% of pregnant women are affected by mental health problems, such as anxiety, tokophobia and depression, during pregnancy (RCM, 2015).
If you feel worried, anxious or low, you could 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 such symptoms can continue for longer, 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, birth trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (NHS, 2018).
There’s a danger symptoms can still be labelled as the ‘baby blues’, which means a lot of mums don’t seek help and get the support and treatment they need for their mental health.
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 and it’s why a lot of people suffer in silence (Boots Family Trust Alliance, 2013). However, what will actually happen is that the new parent will be given medication and/or counselling to help them feel better. The aim is to provide treatment that will support you, your baby, your partner and your families (NICE, 2014).
If you are seriously ill, you may need psychiatric inpatient care and be admitted into a mother and baby unit, where you can stay together with your baby (NHS, 2021).
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 (NHS, 2021). 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 (NHS, 2021).
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 perinatal mental health problems, such as those with previous mental health illness.
Whatever your situation, always talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP if you don’t feel well emotionally (RCOG, 2017).
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 (NICE, 2014; NHS, 2021).
You can always try different options too: just speak to your GP or psychiatrist if you want to continue, change or stop your medication (NICE, 2014).
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 (NHS, 2021).
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 (NHS, 2021).
There are many ways to connect with other mums who are also dealing with mental health problems. Ask your midwife or health visitor about any local support groups or see this link.
Myth 8: There’s only one kind of mental health illness that affects parents
You may only have heard of ‘the blues’ or ‘postnatal depression’ and these are often thought to be the same thing. But there is a wide range of ways mental ill health can present in different people.
So just because your symptoms don’t seem to match what you’ve heard from other people, it doesn’t mean you’re ok. Read more in our articles on perinatal mental health.
Myth 9: Only mums suffer from mental health issues
A significant number of dads and other co-parents also struggle emotionally with the transition to parenthood (Kim and Swain, 2007). In fact, in a study of new fathers with children aged 0-18 months, 27% of them reported symptoms suggestive of depression (Psouni et al, 2017). Read more here about postnatal depression in dads and co-parents.
Witnessing a traumatic birth can leave partners feeling distressed and, for some, may result in them experiencing ongoing trauma symptoms or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Daniels et al, 2020).
Myth 10: I’m never going to feel better
Recovery can be 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 (NHS, 2021). So speak to your midwife, health visitor, or GP as soon as you can to start your journey to recovery.
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 (NHS, 2021; Mental Health America, no date).
Experiencing mental health symptoms can be overwhelming but help is available so speak to a trusted healthcare professional, such as a midwife, health visitor, or GP. If you feel at risk of harming yourself or others, call 999, attend an emergency department, or call the Samaritans on 116 123.
This page was last reviewed in January 2022.
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.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists has information on mental health in pregnancy.
If you want to explore private therapies, it is important that the person offering you care and treatment is appropriately qualified and insured. For help finding a qualified therapist with professional accreditation see this link. It may be beneficial to speak to your GP first about the type of private therapy you are considering.
Treatment for any mental health problem should always start with a clear assessment of your mental health to ensure the techniques the therapist will use will be helpful. With any type of therapy, it is important that you feel comfortable and safe with the therapist and with the therapeutic techniques they use. If you are not comfortable for any reason, you should consider moving therapists, which is possible even within the NHS.
Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby: 0300 330 0700.
You might find attending one of our NCT New Baby courses helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.
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.
Boots Family Trust Alliance. (2013) Perinatal mental health: experiences of women and health professionals. Available at: https://www.basw.co.uk/resources/perinatal-mental-health-experiences-wo… [Accessed 26th January 2022]
Daniels E, Arden-Close E, Mayers A. (2020) Be quiet and man up: a qualitative questionnaire study into fathers who witnessed their Partner’s birth trauma. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 20:1-12. Avaiable at: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12884-020-02902-2
Kim P, Swain J. (2007) Sad dads: paternal postpartum depression. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 4(2):35-47. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2922346/ [Accessed 26th January 2022]
Mental Health America. (no date) Recovery is a journey. Available at: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/recovery-journey [Accessed 26th January 2022]
NHS. (2018) Feeling depressed after childbirth. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/feeling-depressed-after-birth/ [Accessed 26th January 2022]
NHS. (2021) Mental health problems and pregnancy. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/mental-health-problems-pregnant/ [Accessed 26th January 2022]
NICE. (2014) Antenatal and postnatal mental health: clinical management and service guidance. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg192/chapter/1-Recommendations [Accessed 26th January 2022]
Psouni E, Agebjorn J, Linder H. (2017) Symptoms of depression in Swedish fathers in the postnatal period and development of a screening tool. Scand J Psychol. 58(6):485-496. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29052228 [Accessed 26th January 2022]
RCOG. (2017) Maternal mental health – women’s voices. Available at: https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/patients/information/maternalmental-healthwomens-voices.pdf [Accessed 26th January 2022]
RCM. (2015) Caring from women with mental health problems: standards and competency framework for specialist maternal mental health midwives. Available at: https://maternalmentalhealthalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/Caring-for-… [Accessed 26th January 2022]