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Guideline on mental health in pregnancy updated

The guideline from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) on mental health during pregnancy has been updated in line with latest research.  The group that developed the guideline was chaired by Louise Howard, Professor in Women’s Mental Health at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN).

Professor Howard said: “This guideline aims to highlight the full range of mental health problems that can occur during pregnancy and after childbirth, and ensure they are identified and treated promptly. These disorders are common but treatable and we hope that this guideline will help women get comprehensive holistic assessment and treatment quickly so that pregnancy, and the period after childbirth, are times of optimal mental and physical health.”

Women are far more susceptible to suffering mental illness during pregnancy with more than one in 10 experiencing depression during the antenatal period, a figure that rises to one in five during the first year after giving birth. A range of disorders can be experienced including depression, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and tokophobia (an extreme fear of childbirth), eating disorders, substance misuse, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, as well as an increased risk of psychosis in the weeks following childbirth.

Updated recommendations include advice and monitoring for women at increased risk of mental health issues, timing of when to start and stop treatment along with the likely benefit of interventions, and guidance on dealing with traumatic birth, stillbirth or miscarriage.  The full list of recommendations are available on the NICE guideline webpage. Drugs play an important role in treating antenatal and postnatal mental health disorders, however they may not always be suitable so the guideline stresses the importance of careful monitoring and follow-up in women taking drugs for a mental health disorder.

“When I experienced mental illness after the birth of my children – postpartum psychosis followed by depression and anxiety – it was the expertise and care of health professionals that enabled me to recover,” said Karen, a mother who experienced postpartum psychosis. “The new guideline will help to ensure that all women whose mental health is at risk during or after their pregnancy get the support they need.”

For further information contact Tom Bragg, Press Officer at IoPPN, King’s College London, on +44(0)2078485377 or email